Thursday, February 28, 2008

winter blahs

Winter's beginning to seem endless here in Chicago, as it usually does toward the end of February.

Last weekend my hubby and I headed to the Garfield Park Conservatory in Chicago. It was a sunny day and the park is huge, warm and full of flowers. The first one was in the cactus room. The darker green riged plant is called "Fairy's Washboard" which I found totally delightful. It is most likely put to good use by all of the fairies that live in the mossy grottos in the nearby fern room.

The azalea show is going on and the show room was awash with color.

After we left the conservatory it was warm enough to have a picnic in the car (big salads full of spring greens).

Then we drove on to the nearby, much smaller but equally delightful, Oak Park Conservatory.

The Oak Park Conservatory greeted us with huge amaryllis plants in glorious bloom. Their middle room is home to some friendly birds (as long as fingers don't approach the cages too close!). I like to sit and visit with one who will sit and chat nicely with me. A parrot on the other side of the room gets stuck on "hello," which the visiting teens loved.

I haven't done much in the way of stitching--I've been recharging my batteries. Over the weekend I realized I was putting off stitching on Peter's sampler and decided that the top motifs, four squirrels, just seemed like too much counting for me. They're pretty spaced out. So I decided to be flexible (hah!) and I began with the second row, a row of double herringbone. That gives me a better basis for counting and working the squirrels.

I was home with the flu yesterday and when my brain finally woke up a bit, I spent some happy hours with the new issue of Fiber&Stitch. It's full of really interesting projects. Mostly I slept. Hopefully I'll have the gumption to stitch again soon.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

February Take-It-Further finished

Here is my February Journal page. This month's project felt more "doable" and I feel I had a nice balance between remembering, planning, designing/executing the design/and engineering the piece together.

The beaded section is pretty heavy. I strung long strings of mixed beads onto dental floss and then couched them down. It always amazes me how much slack needs to be left for the couching. I didn't use as many beads as I'd expected and still have a lot left over.

The only thing I bought for this project were the clear crystals for the candelabra. Everything else was in my stash!

The backing is glittered felt. I needed it to be sturdy and I thought the glitter fit the theme. The inside support is a piece of Fast-2-Fuse. There are a couple of layers of felt under the smooth piano section of the front so that it ends up level with the beads and not lower.

I made the loops with some gold cording, couched on. I should have couched the cording on before I sewed the backing on. It would have been much easier to couch the little swirls if I could have put the needle straight down. But I managed, although it's not my neatest stitching ever.

I made the inscription with a Sharpie pen.

I've really enjoyed reading everyone else's memories and watching their projects develop.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Over the moon!

My niece sent me an embroidery she did. This is the one for whom I did all of the wedding things. I didn't know she had any interest in embroidery but apparently she's recently picked it up. I am so thrilled. Not only that she's going to have the fun of stitching but maybe in the future we'll be able to do things together. Here it is--isn't it lovely! I'm just over the moon.

Once got got over my excitement from getting the package yesterday with the embroidery, some Christmas gifts I'd forgotten at my sister's, a packet of papers from our parent's estate all about the purchase of their first home and it's subsequent sale, and, oh, the memories, mom's worn out old kitchen shears!, I scanned my progress on Liberace and my niece's embroidery.

I finally settled down to do some work on Liberace at about 10pm last night, so I didn't do much and stayed up a bit too late at that. Full moon restlessness. Did you see the eclipse? It was eerie

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Sampler and books

I mentioned yesterday that I am beginning a sampler for my nephew. Here it is: Autumn Leaves from Friends in Stitches. I have two nieces and two nephews. Years ago when a niece was about 10 I made a Dawn Lewis sampler "Touch Your Dreams" that really reminded me of my oldest niece. It had pretty stitches, lots of glitz, and a lovely verse and I thought of her the whole time I made it. So I got it framed and set it aside for her. Then a couple of years later I did another sampler (no idea the name or designer now) that had more masculine colors and I added a verse about tiny acorns-mighty oaks. And I kept thinking about my oldest nephew. So I had it framed and set aside for him

So when my niece graduated high school I gave her the sampler. I think she liked it. When my other niece graduated, I just couldn't find the right sampler so I did an art book for her. Then when my oldest nephew graduated high school, he got his sampler. He was a bit quizzed (and I also gave money to all, which is a much more realistic gift), but I think he liked it. All of the kids have a pretty good sense of family and history. So now it's time for the last to graduate. I've had this pattern set aside for a while but am finally getting to it. I found some hand-dyed linen with tones from charcoal to rust on butternut-color linen and I gathered up some threads.

As usual for me, I changed the verse. I've written my own poem, a haiku that I plan to use. I may, in fact, stitch on the paper rather than cross stitch the words. We'll see. I'm not good at counting, especially not on 32ct linen. I got the edges overcast and the center and two sides basted and am ready to go. Yesterday I enlarged the pattern so I can actually see it to count it.

But last night I was back at work on Liberace and got a lot done.

I also mentioned yesterday that while procrastinating this weekend, I was reading: Here are a couple of the books I spent time with.

Embroidery and Colour by Constance Howard is a library book that I borrowed after reading about it somewhere recently. I've read it before but it was great to review. It's about a lot more than color theory and has a lot of great design ideas and exercises.

Gardening with Silk and Gold by Thomasina Beck is just a pure joy. While she takes you through centuries of gardening and embroidery styles, it's the amazing pictures that make it so enjoyable. There are paintings, engravings, embroideries, details. It's one of those books I keep going through over and over.

Monday, February 18, 2008


Here are our Valentine treats. The first is the "box of candy hearts" I made for my hubby. Below that are the two big bouquets of carnations he gave me. They're gradually all opening and quite lovely.

This was a mildly frustrating feeling weekend. On Sunday morning I realized it was because I was procrastinating beginning stitching on my TIF February piece.

When I think about it in retrospect, I did a lot. I got the piece pressed, basted to muslin and mounted on a stretcher frame. I went down into my basement stash and found all the gold metallic threads and all the crystal, gold and pearl beads I could find.

I also did a lot of things to procrastinate stitching, including laundry, errands, basting the margins in a sampler I plan to begin for a nephew's high-school graduation in June, and reading. I also found things to do in the kitchen, where the bouquets are residing. They really brighten the place up! Oh, and we watched the Daytona 500 (usually a big stitching time for me because it's easy to do both most of the time).

I also continued with my weekly clear-out. I have boxes of magazines I've stashed in the basement and they're getting musty and there are just too many to be of any use--I can't find what I want when I want it. So I'm going through a pile each week and pulling out the article or two I want to keep and recycling the rest. I don't pull anything from some issues and those I bring to guild meetings or send to a local animal shelter resale center that likes craft items. I can't do too many each week or it overloads the recycling bin. This is a wonderful procrastination activity.

I finally gave myself a talking to and at about 9 p.m. picked up a needle. After pulling out at least a dozen spools of thread, I ended up, thus far using only one: the DMC metallic that comes in skeins. I got the five arms of the candelabra done. I started the base and then realized I'd basted it off center. I ripped it out and decided to pad it a bit so I used some ribbon floss to lay the new lines and pad it a bit. I'll do a diagonal satin stitch over that. By the time I'd stitched, I'd already done my scanning for the day, but I'll try and scan the piece midweek.

Friday, February 15, 2008

recipe challenge

I made this recipe card last week. I had been planning it for quite a while so it was quick to put together. I used Misty-Fuse for the first time and I must say it was a dream to work with.
This was for a challenge, actually two challenges, in the Fiber & Stitch Yahoo! group. This is one active group of women and they're making challenge projects right and left. This is my first attempt at anything like this.
I had all the pieces assembled. I printed my recipe onto plain white paper. It is for lavender cookies with a rosewater icing. They’re quite easy to make and addictive—I’ve made them several times since I found the recipe a the Spice House site (I also got the rosewater and edible lavender buds there).
I cut out the recipe and colored the paper with stamp-pad ink I found in stuff that was my mother’s. It’s a bright pink and I have no idea why I kept it, but it worked well for this. Then I got to work. I laid a plain piece of cotton fabric on my ironing board. Topped it with a piece of Misty-Fuse, I sprinkled on some rose petals I had saved from yellow roses my dad had given us when we bought our first home. We moved them when we moved to our current home and nurtured them for years, but they’re gone now. I saved every petal from the last few year’s roses and dried them. These were kept in a glass jar in the kitchen and were still very fragrant.
I placed a piece of tea tie-dyed cheese cloth that had been pressed pretty smooth on top of the rosepetals and fused the whole thing (using parchment paper). Then I added another layer of M-F, more rose petals (red this time) and the recipe. I fused it all again.
Once it was cool I cut it into a front and back and trimmed them to match. I pulled a tube of purple plastic mesh from a vegetable bag (from Brussels' Sprouts) over the piece and arranged it like I wanted. Then I stitched around the edges with either a buttonhole or an overcast stitch using purple perle cotton. Everyone is right, the M-F stitches like a dream.
Once the net was secure, I began to have some fun. I got a tea bag from the kitchen and replaced the tag with one that said "serve with tea." I edged it with some lavender and replaced the string with perle cotton. I tucked the teabag back into it’s paper wrapper. I glued the wrapper to the back and then glued the tag in place. I added some lavender buds along the top of both sides and a piece of lavender and green ribbon along one side.
I have no idea what I’ll ever do with it. I made it a rather ungainly size...I’ll need to think this all through more carefully in the future. But my old eyes require big type and I wanted lots of space for embellishment, so I’m not unhappy.
I love the memories of my parents that were evoked while I was doing it. The plastic mesh reminded me of the netting women wear on their hats and of a proper tea. I made my netting a little off kilter, because I can never quite carrry off proper and neat (I'm always untucked or a bit crooked).

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Valentine's Day

I've taken some time out from my TIF challenge to work on a Valentine for my hubby. I usually give him something I've made from a poem to an embroidery.
This year I've been making lots of yo-yo hearts with my Clover tools, using quilting fabrics in pinks, reds and whites.
I then stacked the little hearts onto bigger ones and tied them together with floss and old mother-of-pearl buttons. I ended up with 20 stacks.
Last night I stitched my stacks in to five rows of four hearts. Originally that was my plan and I'd be done but I decided that it needed a backing.
So late last night I cut out and pressed two different quilt-fabric rectangles, slightly larger than my hearts, and from a third fabric I cut a bias binding and pressed that in half. I also cut out batting.
This morning before work I pinned it together and then decided it needed a bit of trimming so I came to work with pink and red threads all over my black pants. Tonight I'll seam my bias and stitch it to the "quilt" and top it with the hearts.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

February Take It Further progress

It's freezing here and snowy so we were home a lot over the weekend. I did a lot of cooking Sunday, to help keep warm. Along with some stitching, of course.

I made a full size sketch of my journal page for February, the first image here. I sketched in my candelabra full sized, too. I used tracing paper and penciled in the piano line on the back so I could then transfer it to a piece of plain paper.

Once I had the curve in place, I went fabric shopping in my stash.
I didn't find exactly what I wanted but I did find things that would work. Here's my notebook with samples. I used a beige polyester with some stretch for the curve line. I folded it over and seamed it (I tried to make a tube and turn it but it just wouldn't cooperate so I gave up on that.)

For the beaded background on the right,
I found a heavy white twill fabric. I had hoped for find a satin or moire for the piano, but I didn't have any so I am layering two layers of white chiffon over a quilting cotton with a white on white pattern. I like the effect.

To put the complex curve together, I basted my beige tube to the paper outline then I stitched the two white fabrics in turn to the tube. Lastly, I traced my candelabra to another piece of tissue paper, pinned it to the fabric, and basted through the tissue to transfer the design lines. Here it all is, still basted to the paper backing and unpressed. My next step will be to baste this to a piece of plain white cotton and mount it on stretcher bars to embroider. And I said I'd go for a simpler, quicker project in February!

Thursday, February 7, 2008

experiments in photo transfer

This past weekend I took a photograph of my dad and his sister (circa 1927) and tried four methods of transfering it to something that allows me to use it as fabric.

First I printed four copies of the sepia-toned photo onto plain paper using a color laser-jet printer. Laser prints don't run like ink jet prints.
Then I used four different transfer methods. I numbered the photos in the upper right corner but it's not as easy to see as I'd hoped.

For #1 I applied clear shipping tape over the photograph. I had to use several pieces to cover it all and I overlapped them slightly. I burnished it with the side of a wooden ruler and the smooth rounded end of a letter opener. Then I set the photo under a stream of cool running water and wet it thoroughly. The paper rubbed off of the back easily and it was easy to see where I'd missed spots so I could go back and get them. This was hands-down the quickest method and it provided a good, clear copy of the photo. This is the first time I've tried this method and I haven't applied the piece to fabric yet. I probably will use gel medium. I think it would be difficult to stitch through by hand.

#2 has three layers of Wonder-Under fusible ironed onto it, one on top of the other. I used a teflon pressing sheet over and under the piece and fused the webbing on one layer at a time to control it. (I've tried one layer and it simply disintegrated.) Once cool, I soaked it in water and rubbed off the back. This took a few tries because it needed to dry for me to see missed spots. It also took more care because the webbing is still fragile and it was easy to rub off too much. I do like the tattered and worn effect. I have applied it to fabric with both glue (gel medium) and ironed-on fusible. Both methods work fine and can be sewn through.

For #3 I simply placed the image face down onto a piece of fabric (smooth cotton) and ironed it. I set the iron as hot as it would go and I sprayed my cotton ironing-board cover with water beforehand to add a little steam. I burnished it with the edge of the iron (hard to do without the design shifting--basting it to the fabric might help). I pressed hard. The image is soft and ghostly, which could be good for certain projects. Since it's on fabric, it can be stitched, fused or glued onto another piece. I put it on a large piece of fabric, thinking that I might make it the center of a crazy quilt square.

Last, I made a gel transfer. I used Golden Gel Medium and painted several layers over the photograph. I let each layer dry in between applications and I alternated the direction of the brush strokes. The brush strokes will be visible in the finished piece, so for the top layer I made shorter "painterly" strokes. I let the final coat dry for 24 hours. Then I soaked the piece in cool water and rubbed off the paper from the back. You have to do this on a smooth, flat surface and take care not to stretch and tear the gel, which is like a soft plastic. It will stretch a bit as you work but if you're careful, it will snap back into shape. I had to let it dry completely and rewet and work at missed spots several times with this method and it is possible to over scrub and loose image. For the most part, though, this method retains the color and provides a clear image. I have both glued and stitched down gel images. You have to be careful when stitching through the gel but it works okay.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

February Take-It-Further Challenge

I've spent some time working through my ideas for the challenge on paper. I think this will end up being mostly a stash project, which will be a very nice thing.

Thanks to Wawanna for encouragement. It really helps. Thanks also for the comments from Leila and TerryB--I had hoped the choice of Liberace would bring back some memories for others.

He wasn't a major part of my life, my mom wasn't one of his many dedicated fans, but, still, he was around (and hard to miss) for much of my childhood and young adulthood!

Although rick-rack was a close second---I'd love to do a page all about rickrack and how we used it to edge, trim, make lace, create flowers... It certainly made life bright and a page about rick-rack would be fun to do. Maybe in my second life...

Monday, February 4, 2008


Jane and I had a fun play date on Friday night and I ended up with a total of eight 2" pink squares for the challenge. These things are addictive!

I used pages from all of my various transfers. The pink one top left is a gel medium transfer. The beige one next to it is a direct-iron on transfer. The pink one in the second row wiht lace is also a gel medium transfer. Below that in row three the left-had design uses a fusible web transfer, as does the blue one next to it.

I also found a little box that I'd saved from something--the squares fit into it perfectly! I want to show them at my guild and then they're off to Monica for her community art doll project.

Blogger is giving me fits tonight and nothing seems to be working right so I'm just going to get these pictures up and try more later this week. I've uploaded this photo at least a dozen times and when I try to move it where I want it, it disappears and I have to start from scratch all over again. And each time a photo's added, it changes the spacing of everything!

I did samples of photo transfers this weekend, lots of hearts using the Clover template, and came up with some ideas and sketches for my TIF challenge.

Friday, February 1, 2008

February Take It Further

I love this month's Take It Further challenge! It's really got the memories flowing. I had all sorts of ideas from 1950's cars with fins to Roy Rogers to rick-rack (I had a dress with a full skirt and rows of rick-rack that I loved and wore to bits!). I was really surprised that many of my ideas were related to early television, because television wasn't all that much a part of our lives back then. I think perhaps it's the visual aspect.

It hit me very quickly what my project would be: I remember Liberace! Oh, as a child I sooo hated him. When he came on TV, I had to go to bed for a nap. I had this feeling that if he was gone, naptime would go, too! Whatever you say about him, in the U.S. he was very visible. (as he said, he didn't dress like he did in order to be overlooked!) In the 50s he was somewhat revered, I think as a bit of glitz after the war. In the 60s he became a joke and in the 70s rather pathetic. In the 80s I remember thinking more positively about him--simply because he was who he was and he stuck to it no matter what. He did put on a real show and his fans adored him (still do). And he seemed dedicated to them.

I also think he's a sign of my childhood and the post-war years of glossing over and hiding reality. Every family was perfect, all mothers wore high heels and pearls to clean, all soldiers integrated perfectly back into society, and Liberace wasn't gay.
He was glitz and glamor and the very definition of "bling."
Here are some Liberace links I found. I rather suspect he was a totally American phenomenon.

Liberace is rather icongraphic: white and gold and crystal (he used to wear a white tux in his early TV shows, long white fur coats later on) . He always had a candelabra on his piano, which in later years was covered in mirrors. He wore lots of gaudy rings. And he always played a grand piano.
My basic design will be based on the curves of a grand piano. I think I will piece it, perhaps with a piping between the seams. White fabrics, of course. Or, perhaps some gold. I must have a five-branched candelabra. I'm not quite sure how I'll represent that. Lots of beads: clear, gold, silver and sparkly. Shisha mirrors come to mind, too. I can't wait to get started. The first step will be a trip to the basement boxes to see what I can dredge up.