Saturday, March 21, 2009

Ideas for the Assisi Stitch

I was pretty enthusiastic about the Assisi stitch when I read about it in Clearwater.  Yes, I confess I dropped $5 at the cyber cafe for 15 minutes of Internet time to read Sharon's blog.   At the time, I thought the stitch had a lot of possibilities.  I had collected some shells while I was walking the beach at low tide and I thought I could work their images into the design.

But I just wasn't getting a contemporary feeling from the shell direction.  One of my wishes this year has been to make my work a bit more free-form and less traditional.  So,  I pulled out a book of postcards I purchased last year at the Frank Lloyd Wright exhibit and tried to adapt one of his designs for my panel.  Here's the diagram that I prepared:

After a lot of erasing, re-arranging, and review of several stitch dictionaries, I just couldn't picture how this would look when all the stitching was done.  I really liked the mix of round, square, and triangular shapes FLW used in his "City by the Sea" (unintentional beach theme going here).  But it just didn't feel right (Wright?) being worked in Assisi stitch.  I felt like the contemporary was clashing with the traditional.

So, I returned to the 100% traditional route and thought about snowflakes.  Here's the layout for the panel, but I jettisoned that idea, too.  Snowflakes, shells - both traditional and not what I was aiming for.  However, for those of you who would like to use snowflakes, may I respectfully recommend The Floss Box (  The site has at least 25 snowflakes that could be easily adapted to Assisi work, and the patterns are free for downloading.  Blessings on the women and men who offer their work to the rest of us.

So, I tried one more time for a contemporary design using FLW's art as an inspiration rather than trying to slavishly copy from him.  Here's what I think will be translated to the canvas:

Let me explain what I'm after here in case it's not intuitively obvious.  The diagonal lines demarcate fields with different filling stitches; they will be removed when the filling stitches have been completed.  The rectangles will be the blank fields with perhaps some embellishment  - stitched squares, glass seed beads, tiny buttons?

I am really glad to have this particular challenge.  I've always have a hard time using negative space in my work.  This exercise may help me improve the way I think about using the fabric to speak for itself. 

There Goes Challenge #2

I am appalled at myself.  I worked two small trellis stitch blocks on my canvas and then got occupied with other activities and didn't complete the February challenge.  I really don't like signing up for tasks I can't do as promised so this is really annoying me.  But then I realized my agonizing over the February block was taking all the fun out of the challenge so I stopped beating myself up over it - sort of.

Actually, my spouse has had some medical issues of late and I decided my family needed to take him on a trip he has been aching to go on since I married him 33 years ago - Phillies' Spring training in Clearwater, Florida.   Those of you who bail out of this blog at this point have my complete understanding.  I'd have bailed out of the trip if I could have as I am not a die-hard baseball fan.  I had hoped to squeeze in a visit to a quilt shop in Dunedin, which is right next to Clearwater.  But given the schedule we planned for my husband, that wasn't a happenin' thing, as they say.  Oh, they said, "We can go."  But all I could picture was my husband and son standing outside the store shuffling their feet and emitting agonal sighs while I tried to look at fabric.   It's really no fun trying to shop under that kind of pressure.  And needless to say, the trip to the yarn store, which was just down the street from the fabric shop, also fell victim to cancellation.  Well, it wasn't my dream vacation, but it wasn't planned to be so I am not terribly disappointed.  Oh, all right, I'm not disappointed at all because I have enough yarn and fabric to last me for the foreseeable future.  And I did get to spend some time at the beach and the weather was great - sunny and hot.

I did manage to squeeze in a trip to the cyber cafe while I was away and got the third stitch challenge.  I drew out a couple of plans for my panel and I'll blog them as soon as the server lets me upload my photos. I've decided to move ahead with the third panel and go back to the February assignment if time allows. Hopefully I will be able to devote more time to stitching of all sorts in the coming weeks.

Saturday, February 28, 2009

The Trellis Stitch

I was flummoxed by the name "trellis" stitch.  The samples I found surely didn't look like a trellis to me at all.  So I did something I've never done for either the TAST or the 2008 challenge:  I did a practice panel.  Here it is, completed just after Valentine's Day when Sharon first posted the assignment:

I watched the videos Sharon provided on her blog and decided to work squares instead of circles.  I'm a linear thinker so it just seemed easier to me if I could try duplicating the rectangular samples offered up in the videos.

I varied the weight of the fiber, because initially I couldn't see how this stitch could be varied very much.  I thought I could get different effects on my panel if I simply changed the type of threads I chose.

Lo!  Spacing the stitches far apart using fine thread clearly showed a trellis effect.  Note:  It's impossible to space the stitches using fine thread close together.  You won't be able to see the bridge stitches in order to work the succeeding stitches.

That said and done, I confess I am having difficulty with this assignment.  If I work the stitches with large spaces between them, it is very hard to control the knotting and consequently the regularity of the fiber length in each stitch.  But now that I've got some ideas, I'll start stitching on the panel and see what evolves.  

Friday, February 27, 2009

Depressing Lace

Well, I finished my lace panel on time but I failed to post in a timely fashion.  This was partly due to my Internet service provider not providing, partly due to my disappointment with the overall attempt.

Here's the panel, more or less.

First off, working on the tulle was not as difficult as I thought it would be.  In fact, after the first few minutes of stitching, I hardly noticed it at all.  I back-light the canvas to make the holes more obvious, so that probably helped obscure the surface tulle.  And as long as I did not have to rip any stitches, it was like working on the plain Aida cloth. 

However, I am unhappy with the panel for a number of reasons.  First, I didn't think through the design adequately.  I wanted the panel to look like the corner of a lace curtain.  But I kept trying different stitch variations so the piece doesn't hang together the way I wanted it to.

I am happiest with the top rows, which look most like the chicken scratch stitch.  I also think the large chicken scratch stitches along the right hand side best exemplify what I was trying to achieve with the piece - the look of lace.

The two flowers look out of place because I used only one-sixth of a chicken scratch stitch (or a half cross stitch).   I thought about doing these over immediately after I finished them, but I was afraid I might damage the tulle if I tried ripping them out, so I let them be.  And I thought that I could integrate them into the lower part of the panel better than I did. 

I really dislike the way the woven thread work turned out.  I have curtains of lace with a honeycomb weave, and that is the look I was trying for.  But I think the woven threads are too thick and the honeycomb does not integrate well with the rest of the motifs in the panel.

That said, here's the do over if I ever decide to make lace instead of going to the store and buying it (Ha! Not a chance):  Work the entire panel in one strand of floss using the woven (honeycomb) stitch.  Then, work the top motif along the top and the right hand side, over the base woven stitches.  Integrate the motif that appears on the right hand side throughout the rest of the panel.  Omit the flowers. I think by laying down the base of woven stitches, and then working the motifs over them, I would have gotten the lace look I was trying for.

For the moment, I am letting the panel "rest."  I am toying with the idea of somehow spiffing it up a bit with beads or maybe gussying up the flowers or ripping out the woven stitches... Sigh!  I just need some time to decide what level of fiber surgery is necessary to save the life of of this lace.  Readers suggestions are certainly welcome.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Flowers It Is

After mulling over a modern look for my chicken scratch panel, I decided to consult some of the needlework books I have in my library to see if I could find any patterns for flowers that used cross stitch.  Well, there were a lot of them actually, but I settled on one likely candidate and went to work.  Instead of using the double cross stitch that makes up chicken scratch border, I used a half cross stitch and varied the direction in each petal to give the flower a bit of interest.  I also wanted the flowers to stand out from the borders, so changing the stitch was one way to do this.

After completing the first flower, I realized that I needed to give the petals more weight.  Using one strand of floss as I had for the border resulted in a flimsy flower.  It looked like it didn't belong in the panel.  Not wanting to rip it out and work it again, I went back over the stitches with a second strand of floss and that seemed to fix the problem.  The second flower was done first time around with two floss strands.  I am not sure I am completely happy with them, but I am letting them percolate in my mind before I change them in any way.

I wanted to put a side border on the panel, to mimic what I might see in a curtain.  I toyed with the idea of just turning the top border and working it vertically, but since part of the challenge is to explore, I thought using a different stitch might be interesting.  (Side note:  Interesting is a word used to describe something that 1) doesn't quite work, 2) is outright goofy but the viewer is too polite to say so, or 3) genuinely innovative and so unique the viewer needs time to digest what she's seeing.  Number three is definitely out!)  Here's where I'm at so far:

I am going to finish the vertical border today and then try to come up with some stitches that unify the sections I've completed so far so that the piece works as a whole.  I have not yet done much with needle weaving (I did just one row in the horizontal border), so I will probably attempt to use that stitch as a filler.  However, I don't want to use up all the negative space on the tulle.  In looking at commercially made lace, the netting becomes part of the lace design.  And since one of my objectives was to be man emulating machine, I think I want some tulle exposed.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Oy, My Eyes!

I spent the first part of the week planning out on graph paper a few motifs that I thought might work well on the lace panel.  I realized after the second sketch that I wasn't going to get the soft imagery I was hoping for.  Whether I am too constrained by the stitch requirements or whether I am lacking imagination is up for discussion.  Regardless, all my motifs took on a hard, geometric line.

So, I did what I did best for TAST.  I showed up at the canvas and started stitching, in the hope that my needle would transport me to the desired destination.  I was hoping the destination would be an interesting hand-made lace that looked at first glance like it came off a machine.

All of the lace samples I purchased had a border, so I started with a simple chicken scratch line across the top of the panel.  By the time I got to the end of the row, I thought my eyeballs would fall out.  There were over 200 individual stitches making up the tiny cross stitched stars and it was no picnic trying to stitch with the tulle overlay.  I was beginning to rethink the "delicate lace" concept.

But not being one to throw in the towel quite so soon, I worked a row of one of the motifs I had developed to use in the border.  About half-way through, I decided to split the panel into two sub-panels and altered the motif slightly.  I finished up with some larger stitches on the first sub-panel, and stopped there to consider where to go next.

Here's the panel so far:

I had planned to develop some kind of flower motif, since all of the lace samples I have use flowers (generally roses or primroses) as the principle design element.  But I am beginning to rethink this objective.  Why do I have to use flowers?  If contemporary embroidery incorporates dead leaves, rocks, and ephemera and is done on burlap, paper, and denim, why should I stick with flowers for my lace panel?

So, before next Friday evening, I have to come up with either a justification for continuing with the flower concept or I have to come up with an alternative inspiration.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Depression Lace?

I don't think anyone can argue that Sharon's choice of "Depression lace" for the first Explorer challenge  wasn't appropriate.     We are all, across the globe, economically depressed right now.   Plus cross stitch is so versatile that I think all of the participants will be able to come up with some novel ways to handle the assignment, so I am anxiously awaiting my fellow stitchers' reports.

Sharon was generous with the examples she provided.  Apparently the cross stitch variation got its name because it looked like lace?  I wasn't seeing it.  Tatted and crocheted laces are beautiful but don't have an elegant quality about them, although I am sure there are others out there in Explorer land who would disagree about the elegant part.  Knitted lace is fine for shawls and scarves, but still not really lace in my mind.  No, lace is that ostentatious stuff on wedding gowns.  Lace has flowers and a satiny feel when you rub your fingers across the bumps that outline the flowers.  It can be appliqued onto a fabric to create drama and richness.

So I decided the effect I wanted to create with "chicken scratch" (what a horrible name for a stitch that can be so beautiful) was actual lace.

So I went to the House of Fabrics in Columbia to see if I could get some inspiration.  Now, the House of Fabrics never fails to inspire me somehow.  It caters to the theater folks and to bridal dress designers.  Quilters need not stop here, although I have occasionally found some fabulous cottons at outrageously low prices.  The House of Fabrics is just across the street from where I work, so it's wonderfully convenient.

Anyway, I shopped their huge selection of laces, and I did have to amend a few of my earlier opinions.  Some of the cotton laces were lovely and certainly could have been selected to provide ideas for my own Depression lace.  And they were elegant - okay, I relent.  But I stuck to my original path and chose three traditional bridal laces.

When I got them home and studied them, one thing I noticed, being machine made and all, was that they were embroidered onto a foundation of tulle or netting.  Since I wanted my Depression lace to look as much like bridal lace as possible, I decided to use a foundation of tulle, hoping (dreaming?) that my finished panel would look like commercial lace.

Here is one of the three inspiration laces.

And here are the other two, set against the tulle.

Thankfully, the tulle almost disappears.  This was important because, in order to work the canvas I had prepared, I had to be able to see the weave of the underlying Aida cloth.

And finally, here is the canvas with the tulle laid across it.  I've stitched the tulle down with a basting stitch and I have spent the last three days or so trying to develop a design that looks like lace.  I am not sure how successful this will be, but the problem sure is stretching my puny brain.  I have a few motifs drawn on graph paper, but I fear they all look a bit modern - too geometric.  I am trying to figure out a way to soften them up a bit before I dive in with my needle.  I will use a single strand of DMC embroidery floss for the stitching to give as fine a feel as possible to the work.  If I'm lucky, I'll find an hour or so today to get at least one row completed.