Friday, February 26, 2010

Girls' Day Out

We had another Girls' Day out yesterday, to celebrate N's birthday. We went to Wheaton, Illinois. I wasn't feeling wonderful, so I didn't take many photos. I don't know if it's the weather, all of the allergy testing, or what, but I've sure been achy lately. We had a wonderful day in any case. It was SUNNY! The first sun we'd had all week. We all enjoyed it.

We had lunch at the Sushi House in Wheaton and it was very good. A friend of my sister's recommended it and they were right.

We visited a lovely knit shop, Never Enough Knitting, that was small but seemed to have anything you could think of. A surprise bonus was that it was a quilt shop, too. Since the birthday girl is a knitter and my sister is a quilter...well! I found surprise treasures, too--lovely French lace for French Heirloom sewing, books on smocking, interesting threads and ribbons for embroidery. I left my purse at home but stocked up my memory in case a need for one of these items should come up!

The next stop sparked the photos. We visited Wheaton College to visit the Billy Graham Museum. The museum is pictured top, the college across the street is below.The museum wasn't a place I'd ever heard of, but my sister knew about it. Our mother liked Billy Graham. It is a lovely small museum with some very interesting exhibits, very nicely done. It's not all about Mr. Graham. They were putting up an exhibit of calligraphy. When we looked at the pictures we realized they were all words from spirituals. That sparked some memories!

The photo below shows K and N racing for the car--it was sunny but it was still cold! They weren't waiting for me to fiddle with the camera. We also visited a local Jo-Ann's for buttons and American Science and Surplus, just to show N what we've been blabbering on about for years. It's a very strange and fun place that has all sorts of odd things for sale, with odder signs about them. A very creative place. The others both found treasures.The day ended on a sad note. We keep up with extended family on Facebook and my sister found that a cousin had passed away. He had had a brain tumor, which we had just learned about a few days ago. I always thought he was much older than me, but he was only a little more than four years older. Age gaps are different when you're children--and that's when I spent the most time with my cousins.He's the sharpshooter on the left. (a big brother's on the right)

Thursday, February 25, 2010


Saturday I was quite proud of myself. I got out early and got a lot done. Along with shopping for necessities, I got to run into Designer's Desk.Here's a photo of the original piece, the ugly mustard felt we'll be making pretty, and the fibers I picked. I had stitched the original puzzle piece project and the later heart project from materials I had on hand, mostly unlabeled. The wonderful staff at Designer's Desk helped me find equivalents so I can begin working on models for the class I have planned for next year. It was just wonderful! Plus, since it was a class and I was buying all the threads there, they gave me a 10% discount. How cool is that?I found these threads in the bargain basement. (Think they'll work for a Japanese thimble??)

I went to three grocery-type stores for some specialty items and Target for cleaning supplies and stuff like toothpaste, in addition to Designer's Desk, plus I got poked for a couple of hours for allergy testing. (dust, dust mites, all sorts of molds and pollens--not much has changed.) I came home and collapsed while dh washed both cars. (It was not warm enough for that, in my opinion, but they were white with road salt.)

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Lovely gifts

Last week I got a surprise gift from a friend. I am thrilled. This is a Tenerife Lace circle on a hankie. Just lovely! And in my favorite blue.These two pieces are coordinating pillow covers. The fabric is a very soft rayon (I think) and the threads are fading away in places which lends them a very poignant and fragile look. I just love them and have been trying to think about what I want to do with them.One thought I have is that I could open them out, the backs are the same fabric but plain, and piece them into a four-patch square, moving the lace to the outside corners. It would need a lightweight backing. I can see Jude Hill's influence in that thought. I am wanting to make slow cloth from this, exploring and seeing where it goes. Karen's peek-a-boo style also appeals, these bright colors and the white fit what she was doing a short while ago. And I love French knots. Maybe with a sheer over top. I love it when the ideas begin to spark!

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Not Stitching

Between working long hours lately (lots and lots of typing) and trying to do the cross stitch, my hands got very, very cranky. My left thumb keeps locking up and my right hand just plain hurts. I've spent several evenings watching the Olympics with my hands wrapped in ice. I haven't stitched or crocheted. My hands are better now, but I can't get back into the groove.

For one thing, I'm just plain tired at night. For another, I've retreated into the books and have been happy there.This book was recommended on the Slow Cloth Facebook group. It is very interesting and I did my best to delve deeply into it, contemplating and doing the exercises. Perhaps it was reading the book, but I finally put into action a plan I'd been thinking about. So far, it's successful.

It's a small thing. I don't move a whole lot. I sit at a computer all day. Our house is small and cramped, with not a lot of space to move around in even if I was inclined that way. I have leg issues and the doctor wants me to ride an exercise bike, which I do off and on but, I'm sorry, but it hurts! (the seat, not the pedaling) I do water aerobics once a week, again not much.

So, a week or so ago I began to modify my morning routine, really inspired by the Tharp book--it's hard to read a book by a person whose life is movement and not be inspired to move, at least a little. And I need to spend time outside--something I rarely do. So now I get up, get dressed, and walk up one side of my street and down the other and back home. We live on a one-block long street. It's on a modest incline so there's a bit of up and down. It takes just about the right amount of time. I'm also trying to move about more during the day--get up and out of my office.

Last week was easy, the sidewalks were clear, the temperatures warm (for Chicago in winter). This week's been more of a challenge. All Sunday night into Monday we had wet, heavy snow. It took me ages to scrape the stuff off our front steps--it wasn't inclined to budge. A kind neighbor had snowblown our sidewalks before I was up. I cut my walk short--the snow was about 6" deep and slippery. I spent the time outside, clearing the steps and my car. Today the snowfall was light and fluffy--but again I walked carefully and made a note to bring my phone with me tomorrow.

I spend my walking time looking at my block--there are mostly small bungalows from the 1920s to the 1950s or so. Many trees. Loads of birds, who are twittering loudly most mornings. I'm surprised by how loud the nearby expressway is.

My hope is that in going over the same space, over and over, I'll begin to see more deeply. I've already made a whole lot of observations about snow. No wonder the arctic peoples have so many names for it!

Back home I go in and have breakfast and pack my bag and head off to work. Last week as I ate I read the next chapter in the Tharp book or worked on the exercises. I began a journal with some notes in it. Some of the exercises are things I want to come back to.

I also began trying to come up with one idea for an embroidery each day (it's been more like every-other day so far). And idea with some specifics--fabrics, colors, techniques. How I'd execute it.

One of my largest mental blocks is "what do I want to say." It's easy when teaching--what I want to say with a piece is pretty much laid out. I want to teach these stitches, I want to share these techniques. But for my own work, I continually stumped by what I want to say. (and more, a real blocker for me, is what am I going to do with it--I've decided to ignore that one for now and just let the embroidery BE and not have to do, too.)

A few years back I even made up pages for a book that read: First, you have to have something to say. They're still there in my to-do pile.

So I've begun a little journal and each day I write: Today I want to say... Some days it has nothing to do with needlework and that's fine. I was really annoyed when our credit card company announced huge new fees so that's what I had to say that day. Today I noticed that the snow was really sparkly-type snow but there was no sparkle because there was no sun. So that's what I had so say today. I'm not trying to push or judge, just trying to make a new habit. I think these are good things and I hope they'll become good habits.

I'm feeling rather full up with all of this and perhaps that's why I'm not driven to stitch right now. Or perhaps it's just that by evening I'm tired both mentally and physically.I finished reading this book. As I went on, I realized that the author must have been born in the 1880s or so, and that made her of an age with my grandmothers. Once I put the book in that perspective, I became more tolerant. The history she included was still more romance than fact. Her views on needlework idiosyncratic (she did not feel drawn thread work was real embroidery, but loved candlewicking, saying it was perfect for lazy stitchers like her. She was quite disdainful of crazy quilting and gushed over the straight lines of patchwork).

That said, the book has a lot of value. If you can find the pattern box that accompanied it (rarely seen in used-book stores)--that is a treasure. For me, loving crewel, there is an entire bed covering of individual crewel motifs all drawn out. Each one would make a lovely piece on it's own.

There are patterns for samplers, needlepoint, patchwork and some lovely quilting patterns. Rugs of many techniques. Knitting and crochet. Candlewicking of two types--older and more modern. Most of the patterns are full size. They are, to me, more important than the book. The book also has some intriguing patterns though, and Mrs Lane has some gems of wisdom here and there. She had a very much today emphasis on frugality, reusing materials, making do--this was most visible in the chapter on rugs. I'm glad I took the time to go through it carefully. I haven't had the patterns out of the box since I bought it and I know what I'm looking at a lot more now than I did then!Before I stopped stitching last week, I tried my hand at mending a hole in a Victorian linen pillowcase. I have a lot to learn. I decided step one would be to baste around the hole, which is done. I'm not quite sure what to do next, in spite of some good instruction books. This is going to be a steep learning curve. But, oh, I love the feel of that linen. I'm sure that will keep me going.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Lake Michigan in Winter

Brrrr, it was chilly looking out over Lake Michigan on Valentine's Day. We did not venture down to the beach as these brave souls did. The wind was from the west, along the shore, and it looked a bit like a wind tunnel down there.
Another view of the lake. The ice here is dangerous, although when I was young I regularly wandered out on it. It's often floating on water and you never know when you'll find a thin pocket.
I was fascinated by the pearly sheen on the snow. The temperature and light were just right.
Birds were active here. The sheen was much more visible in person--but only from one direction. If you looked back, it was gone.
Jude Hill of Spirit Cloth often talks about edges and I found myself contemplating the edges made by the snow and ice.
It was very good to get outside for a bit.

We also visited Lubeznik Center for the Arts for their new shows, The New Moderns and Seeing the Light. I hadn't been excited about them, but I was very happy we went. I learned a lot, saw a lot and left enlightened.

Thursday, February 18, 2010


I'm a huge fan of the Olympics. I love it all, except for the overemphasis on winning and losing. Cummon--most times it's 1/100 of a second! I wish everyone could win and I think they're all winners just for getting there. And since 1968 I've approached the Olympics with an embroidery project in hand.

This year I was going to crochet on my bag, but I realized that I really need to get this bear done. It's a project that Homewood Embroiderer's Guild is doing for charity--we're stitching the bears and a member will sew them into softly stuffed dolls for a children's hospital.

Here's the progress I made this weekend.I don't remember all of my projects, but I do remember that one from the 1968 winter Olympics. I made a summer dress of muslin (beige cotton). I embroidered the pockets based on a design adapted from the cover of a Better Homes and Gardens book I'd found for $1 and persuaded my mother to buy for me. (the book was red and a quick search didn't turn up a picture of one online--I likely still have mine but have no idea where it is). The dress had pintucks on the bodice, a button and loop closure all down the front, and was so short I later wore it as a top!

Wednesday, February 17, 2010


This past weekend I finished reading Embroidery Masterworks by Virginia Churchill Bath. I mentioned that I was intrigued by her constant mention of sugar transfers. Here it is, in brief:

Sugar transfer method for delicate fabric
Make a simple syrup with two-parts sugar and 1-part boiling water. The book has a lot of warnings about heating the solution to dissolve the sugar (you don't want to make candy or thicken it too much), so it seems better to me to just go with boiling the water and stir it until the sugar dissolves. It should be a thin syrup.

Mix in a small amount of tempera paint in a color that will show up on the fabric.

Trace your design onto good quality tracing paper.

With a brush handled “delicately but accurately,” paint over the lines of the pattern on the back of the tracing paper design. The design must be painted carefully—what you paint, thick or thin, is what will transfer.

Allow this to dry thoroughly, at least one hour. Place fabric right side up on an ironing board and make sure it’s smooth. Place tracing paint side down, centered on the fabric.

Transfer by pressing with a hot, dry iron. Lift and place the iron—don’t slide it (good practice for any type of transfer).
I have not tried it.
This book also has an interesting stitch guide—with some unusual stitches like plaited braid. I need to remember that.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Thinking Pink

Over the weekend I finished another felt Valentine. Our student at the Y finished hers and began a strawberry scissors fob. A second student began her Valentine last week..we gave her materials hoping she could finish on her own.This lovely rose was a gift from a coworker and friend. The blue is the color of the twinset I wore it with today. Boy, did I feel spiff!

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Happy Valentine's Day!

Happy Valentine's Day to Everyone!

Friday, February 12, 2010

more books

This book came in the package with the Maggie Grey Image book--a surfeit of riches!The author was trained at the Japanese Embroidery Center, where I studied (and where my current teacher is affiliated). I have the impression that the book is not approved by them. That's okay with me. It's another set of images and words to learn from. From what I can see, what the author does is exactly as I've been taught. Her photos are quite clear and plentiful. I think perhaps her designs have not been approved by the master. I like them and find them much simpler than the official designs.I've always found that the more ways something is explained, the easier it is to learn. I'm enjoying reading this one in the evenings.I've had this book for ages, bought it used. It's full of good, basic design principles and concepts. I love playing with cut paper and exploded shapes and she does that here. It's a book I wish I had more time to play with--but I want to get on with the stitching and always rush past. So, for now, I'm leaving it out and not putting it on the pile and hoping I'll let myself play more.This is one of the first used books I bought that was hefty. It's a paperback book, not bad, but it came with a deep box of full-sized patterns for the designs in the book.
It covers all forms of fiberwork--including weaving. I find the text to be dated--a lot of this information presented as fact is more fiction and romanticized. When I was younger I wasn't sure what bugged me about it, but now I know. I also found the designs to be gangly but I think that's the nature of the beast, because the pieces used as a basis for the designs are accurately translated to the drawings. A lot were from table and bed coverings and the designs were large.

So, while the text is dumbed down, the designs are not. Which has made me think it may be work picking through the text and seeing what I can glean.
This last book had me in conflict for a long time. I had heard of it at a time when I was doing loads of fine counted work, drawn thread, Hardanger, etc. This book was THE book on the subject. But it was from South Africa and I didn't think it was ethical to buy from S.A. Then I became enamored of a South African musician, Johnny Clegg. His music just blew my socks off in the late 80s--I still love it and listen often and go to concerts when he's in the States (very rare). And I learned by reading his articles and others I learned about through a fan group, that maybe boycotting goods made in South Africa isn't best for the people of S.A. and won't necessarily affect the government one way or another. So I bought the book.

It's very old-fashioned. It's organized like a text book with numbered sections. It's shaped like a text book, too--thick. I don't think there are any color photos. But if you do counted thread embroidery--drawn thread, pulled thread, Hardanger, Hedebo, blackwork.... then this is the book for you. There are full-sized patterns for some of the designs in an envelope at the back of the book.

One big drawback is that I found it very hard to follow, even with all the numbering. The description of a design is often not on the same page as the photo, which is not on the same page as the diagram. So, it can take a bit of perseverance to use the book. It's much easier if you just want to generally read about techniques. But I still think it's worth having.

These are the books I have out of the piles and in my basket right now. For some reason, my husband complains that I always have my nose in a book!

Win a Book!

My friend Jenny's book on Lewis Carroll is just published. You can win a copy at this cool blog: Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. It's a site worth exploring if you're at all into Alice and Carroll's other works--I found some cool links there.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Out and About

What a difference some sun makes! In spite of a snowstorm on Tuesday, the sun's been shining into my office window off and on and it's bright today

I have a couple of fun sites to visit.

DMC's most recent blog post features tutorials for some nifty last-minute Valentine projects along with some links to others.

Over on Homewood Embroiderer's Guild there is a tutorial on how to make tied fleece afghans. We made a pile of them on Monday for a local hospital children's cancer treatment center. I love all of the photos of hands.

Sharon B posted a gift on her blog a few days ago--a handy embroidery stitch guide. The descriptions and photos are really clear.

Brenda's taken over the Comfort Doll Project and began a blog. Her first post gives directions on where to send your finished dolls.

I've been reading and really enjoying some very interesting discussions over on the Facebook Slow Cloth group. Very thought provoking and full of wonderful links and ideas.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Books, books

I've been trying to cut back on the paper I bring into the house and, at the same time, the money I spend on magazines. I've cut back on subscriptions (I still get a long list...) and don't browse the stores nearly as often as previously. I used to spend evenings browsing the magazines. Now, instead, I'm delving into my piles of books and exploring them deeper than I may have before. I don't know about you but I find a periodic review of my books is a good thing--I see things I've missed before or just revisit old friends. As I learn new things, I often see designs and techniques that I've seen before in a new light.

This, book, however is not from my library. It's a gift from a friend and it's really great. It's at the top of my pile this week.

I was reading Maggie Grey's blog around the time or shortly after she wrote this book and so some of it seems familiar but very different. I had no opportunity to see it so hadn't bought it and I'm really glad my friend did. It's got all sorts of ideas for using your own photographic images in embroideries by printing them onto paper, fabric, even metal. It's very inspirational. It's full of ideas and techniques I've never explored.
This book was also a holiday gift, at my request, from my whole family. It was rather expensive. My husband found it at Lacis and I must say their customer service is absolutely wonderful. It's hard to resist shopping there more (we visited there once, in the 80s and I remember it being a fairyland of lace--I'd love to go back now when I'd be more likely to know what I'm looking at.)This book provides the techniques, stitches and details for the ten Phase pieces from the Japanese Embroidery Center in Atlanta. I'm slowly working on phase 1. This book is amazing and if you are doing any of these pieces, or contemplating it, I can't recommend a better book. I began at the Center but once I left I was lost and didn't touch the piece for a long time. I'm in classes now, locally (if you're interested in Japanese Embroidery and in the Chicago area, contact me!), and that helped, but I still felt lost on occasion. This is the perfect remedy.The above is a diagram for one of the plants in the bouquet I'm working on. This is not as much a browsing book as a book to have at your side as you stitch.

This is the book I've been spending most of my time with, reading it in detail. I found it several years ago in an antique shop and I knew that it was something I had to have (it was a bit more than my budget was happy with). But life was busy and I flipped through it and set it aside. The author is a local woman, in her upper 80s now. Years ago I tried to get her to come and speak at our embroiderer's guild but she was coping with an ailing mother at the time. I wish I'd kept in contact with her but didn't. I can't find anything personal about her on line (education, background, etc.) She worked at the Chicago Art Institute. She comes across as extremely knowledgeable in the text and as someone I'd love to get to know.

In Embroidery Masterworks she takes an in-depth look at a selection of embroideries from the Art Institute's collection. The pieces are arranged chronologically and are mostly European and Near Eastern. I bought the book for the detailed photos and line drawings of the embroideries (above). There are a few color photos.

This trip through I'm focusing on Mrs. Bath's text. Each piece is put into historical and cultural context, which I'm finding really fascinating. The images of the embroideries are discussed along with how they fit the culture and time period. The materials are discussed in detail, in part to make up for the lack of color pictures (she is often very specific about colors and what color is used where). The stitches are all discussed, too. For each piece of embroidery there is an overall photo, detail photos, a line drawing, and sometimes a more detailed line drawing, often with stitches shown (the less detailed drawing to be used to transfer the image to your fabric).

I thought the "adapting it for modern use" section would be my least favorite. And it is, but that doesn't mean I don't really like it. I just enjoy the detailed focus on the pieces so much that anything else is be second. Her suggestions are often interesting and show sensitivity to the designs, available materials, and the vast amount of time it would take to replicate some of these as originally done. This is a book from the 70s so some of that sensibility prevails, but she definitely does not "dumb down" anything. And I'm from the 70s, too, so it's a comfortable fit.The book ends with a practical section on how to enlarge and transfer the designs and the stitches used in them. She talks about sugar-solution transfers and that has me intrigued. I'm about 3/4 through the book now, reading one or two sections each morning as I eat breakfast.

I've found the images most intriguing and have been working on a crewel design based on them.

The book is long out of print, but if you can find a copy through a used book outlet or a library, it is well worth reading.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

What's been going on...

I didn't do much stitching last week. I've been doing more reading and crochet in the evenings. My large tote is coming along. I think the sides are getting about halfway. (that wide dark green band is the edge of the bottom) I did stitch a couple of things this weekend. I made an embroidered picture of myself for my photo here and on Facebook. I didn't like the front side too much--it looks like me but it doesn't--- and I can see where I got the shape of my glasses right on one side and not on the other and I have too much teeth... But I do like the backside so I'm going to use that until I redo it, if I decide to.

I also did part two of the turkey Valentine towels. Now Ms Turkey has the flowers and has given Mr Turkey a peck on the cheek.
More on my reading in my next post. I've been having fun with my stacks of books.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Sampler Winner--and new giveaway

I just went over to and the number they selected for the sampler giveaway is #6, which is Holly. Congratulations!This next giveaway is a little different. It is a notebook from a Blackwork class by Ann Strite Kurtz from the late 1990s (I think). The class was called Blackwork Variations. The cover shows her sample photos. The class takes you through various blackwork patterns, exploring how color, thread size, and pattern density will change a pattern. This is a great book for anyone exploring blackwork. The book is very well organized and has lots of wonderful ideas. The notebook pages are all in page protectors and I've left all of my samples in the book.

Due to it's weight, I'm sad to say that I must limit this giveaway to the U.S.--since we no longer can ship overseas surface, the cost of shipping packages has grown beyond my budget.

If you are in the U.S. and would like to receive this notebook, please leave a comment on this post by February 28, including a way to contact you. Good luck!

Thursday, February 4, 2010


Over on Attic 24 I found this stripy Lucy Bag project. I thought it would be a great use for my stash of single skeins. Mine is coming out bigger than the original but that's okay. My colors aren't as bright as the original, but I like the color scheme and think the yellows and peaches add a touch of sunlight. I switched from double crochet to single early on Single will make a sturdier bag.It takes a while to do a row around but I'm trying to do a couple of rows a night. My original intent that this be a carry around project went out the window when it got so big--plus so many colors make the project bag fairly large! It takes long enough to complete a row that I have grabbed it along with a skein of yarn and taken it with me a couple of times. I'm finding the crochet aggravates my thumb soreness issues so limiting how much I do at one time is good.

I'm using wool fibers so I plan to throw it in the washer with hot water and the drier to full it a bit. The different gauges of the yarns are making it interesting. I'm not trying to compensate at all.

The aluminum crochet hook is a vintage one I've had since my teens (probably "borrowed" it from mom and never gave it back). It's been my favorite since then.

Attic 24 also has a post on how to make those cool double flowers. It's a welcome bright website in these dank winter days--lots of color, great inspiration and clear tutorials.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

What's been going on...

Today is my husband's birthday but I got the present. A student brought me a lovely bouquet. This isn't the exact bouquet (I didn't have a camera at work today) but it's pretty close. I'm helping her with a project and it was very sweet of her to think of me. I'm allergic so I set the flowers on a bookself outside of my office, where I can see them when I'm at my desk but not sneeze. Plus, everyone else gets to see them, too.

I also got a package in the mail today from Hedgehog Handworks--linen twill for next summer's crewel class that I purchased in January while it was on sale, along with some linen thread, a little box of gold spangles, and some lovely linen plainweave in a natural color for crewel.

In the winter I feel this blog is always a week behind because I can take pictures on the weekend of what I did the previous week and then post them after the fact.I spent time last weekend working on projects for children. This first was to show them that you can embroider on anything. The base for this project is paper towel. After some experimentation, I fused two pieces together.

I put this design idea to work last weekend when we visited friends with young children. They liked it a lot. I prepunched the holes for them so they could use tapestry needles (no pokes!). E (5) finished hers with a great deal of persistence and determination. She got the back and forth movement but wasn't confident yet and asked me to verify every stitch, which was fine. She was always right. K (6-1/2) was less engaged and got bored pretty quickly. When he began unthreading the needle with each stitch, we worked out a deal where he finished the first half and I did the rest. Both were quite proud of their accomplishment, as were their parents when they received their Valentine surprise (they were banned from the kitchen where we worked). If I did it again with children of this age, I'd make the heart smaller or space the dots a bit farther apart.This was a prototype for a Valentine to teach at the YMCA class. We decided the gingham, while cute, was a bit hard to work with. Plus, we'd have to buy hoops for anyone doing it. So, we made some adaptations.This time the model is stitched on felt, much easier, and I added the bee pun. I did up a stitch guide, including bee instructions, and we're set to go. Last night Pam traced out the designs onto pink and red felt, which I think will be prettier than the white I used. We're starting this project tomorrow night.My Valentine mood was triggered by this image. A friend and coworker had drawn a series of turkey cartoons for her younger sister. She was showing me when I grabbed this one and said that I wanted to stitch it. She was enthusiastic and we worked on getting a clear black and white image to use from her photos and I printed it out, traced it onto a tea towel I had and was off and running. I love this design and it was great fun to do. We have a sequel planned. This one is hers, the next will be mine.