Button Octopus

As with many crafting/sewing projects, it all started with buttons in a small crowded yarn store in the middle of suburbia. While my mother was shopping for lovely lovely yarn and my sister was sitting on the “husband chair” being bored, I found a small basket near the cash filled with fabulous purple buttons. I knew, there and then, that something needed to happen with them and soon.

A bit of digging found me two sizes and three different colours of buttons. I knew I wanted to do an octopus the moment I saw them together, shiny and straight little lines. I thought of octopus patterns I had seen over the last year of stitching, and although there are some beauties (such as Cephalopedia on Corvus Tristis , most of which are on my stitch this someday list) none of them fit my purposes.

I ran over to my sister and woke her from her yarny slumber. “I need you to draw me an octopus. Or maybe just a tentacle. For these.” I brandished the buttons victoriously, and after a second of thinking, I saw her eyes light up with comprehension. We started discussing shape and orientation, since I really wanted to feature as many buttons as possible and cutting one in half to make up for a twisting tentacle was not an option. After a few days, she handed me a sketch and I may have squealed.

I took the sketch to my husband who cleaned it up in Inkspace and, after measuring the buttons, added the suckers in as dots. Although I ended up placing the buttons by eye after the embroidery was finished, it was nice to have a guide to go by. His pattern and the sketch are available below if you click through the image. This is free to use for personal use, please do not sell anything you make from it.

Since I really wanted the buttons to be the focus, I did all the stitching in split stitch and used it to make a texture for the buttons to pop from. I only used three colours, and followed the pattern pretty simply. A few unexpected things happened while I was stitching; luckily it all turned out for the best. First, despite my best efforts, my pale stitches on the inside of the tentacle ended up being super tight together at the top of the shape but spaced out at the bottom.

While I was a bit bummed out at first, the spacing really gives it an interesting perspective, as if the bottom of the tentacle is much closer than the top. It also means that the more spaced out buttons at the bottom do not look completely silly, as if that whole bottom half of the tentacle was supposed to have more breathing room. I also realised that the point of my tentacle wasn’t going to be quite as sharp as as I wanted it to be. In the end, it almost looks like the tentacle is curving in behind itself in an even tighter twist, and I love it.

Last week I mused on the button showcase project being done with more of a plan, button-wise. This one could be fun without a plan too. You could use pretty pale buttons or pick buttons randomly after you’ve done your stitching. If you stitch this up, I would love to see the results! Please let me know!


Button Showcase in Red

It all started with a post on design*sponge, the fabulous decor/diy/recipe/awesomeness blog. They featured two free printables to feature crafty leftovers. The ribbon weaving piece was lovely but the button showcase piece was even better. I instantly thought it would look amazing stitched.

Lucky for me, doe-c-doe thought the same thing and redrew the button piece to be round. The design, at the bottom of her post, is fun, free to use and sat in my Patterns folder for the last few months.

I finally got around to doing the project in May/June, on lovely dark red fabric. I reversed the colour scheme so I went with a paler thread that matched some larger seed beads I had kicking around from a previous project.

It was then button time! I went to my mother’s craft room and raided her button stash, since my own button stash is nearly nonexistent still. My mom and my sister helped me pick out paler buttons, wooden buttons, metal buttons and one bright red plastic one, which they thought wasn’t a great idea but I love anyway.

The beauty of this project is how rich all the different textures and colours look next to each other. The metal ones are probably my favourites, because they look so amazing on the red. The big one with the flower is so pretty, I am tempted to steal two more and make them into earrings (with the help of my best friend, Loctite Gel Superglue – I use it for jewellery, I use it to secure ribbon when hooping up embroidery, and the gel makes it super easy to use in a precise way!).

One hitch I hit was that the look I was going for was relatively flat and I didn’t let myself use any buttons with shanks. There were a few really gorgeous buttons that I would have loved to use, but they wouldn’t have sat straight on if I had just tacked them on. There may have been a way if I had been willing to cut into the fabric to sink them in, but… the mere thought if cutting into something I have worked on makes my skin crawl and my shoulders tense.
This project would be fun to do with a pre-picked batch of buttons.  There is a beautiful textile store near my house that has a wall full of buttons in little cardboard boxes.  I wonder how different the project would look if you chose your buttons carefully, making sure to have the right number of small and large buttons and matching the colours perfectly.  Would it look nicer, more refined, or would it lose all meaning, not being a collection of whatever lovely findings you picked out of a jar or an old coffee tin?  The question is interesting enough that I may have to try it next time I am between projects.

Tree Stump For Pierre

My boss Pierre recently announced that he was having twins, which is super fabulous. The two little little girls were born on June 10th, 2011, which meant I had to hurry up and finish the project I was working on! I first saw cozyblue’s family tree trunk pattern on Feeling Stitchy and thought it was gorgeous. A few weeks later, when my boss and his wife finally decided on two names for their girls, I went onto the cozyblue’s etsy store and bought the pattern in a heartbeat. The pdf was in my mailbox the next morning, which is fabulous.

It stitched up beautifully. I really liked what she had done with her sample, so I really didn’t change very much. I used a satin stitch on the main tree trunk, backstitch for the outer trunk and the rings, and split stitch for most of the rest. I used four strands on the inside initials and the leaves, making them look super rich and full.

A hint about split stitch: if you are using a split stitch with stranded floss, try to use an even number of strands. Even if you do not do an even split every time, the results will be much nicer than if you are using three strands. With three strands, the stitching looks lumpy; you always have more strands on one side of the split and you can never make it look as good as you want it. I have done split stitch with the full six strands before, and although you need to be more careful to catch fraying and to make your tension even, the results are really spectacular.

I am really excited for him and can’t wait to give it to him once he comes back to work. Congratulations!

Embroidery via Lumberjacks and the Canadian Armed Forces

My grandfather was a lumberjack. He was also a construction worker, a makeshift electrical engineer and a general hired hand; the story starts when he was a lumberjack. Lumberjacking was the kind of job, especially in the forties and fifties in rural Québec, that would take you away from your wife and eight (Eight!) children for months at a time.

Leaving your wife alone for months at a time with a brood of boys and one small girl, simply asking for forgiveness will get you nowhere. These boys were boisterous, tricky and fond of fighting. My grandmother was a petite, thin red headed woman with fragile nerves. Just asking for forgiveness was a one way street to the dog house. So he cross stitched.

There isn’t much to do in the middle of a forest at night. You can get drunk with the moose and the bears, or you can prep your way back into your wife’s good graces. He would take large, complicated cross stitch projects out there with him, and would return, months later, with something to appease her. It usually worked, unless my father (HIS son!) had been particularly trying and picking fights with the neighborhood dogs and getting the police involved. Then it might take two or three projects to get back into the house.

Which brings me to my father. My father was, for twenty odd years, in the Canadian Armed Forces. It made my family both bilingual and well travelled within Canada, and also meant he was away on various exercises for weeks and months at a time. While my mother, much less frail and much louder than my grandmother, only had one, two and then three children to deal with, he still needed to work his way back in. It always seemed that everything broke while he was away; the fridge, the washing machine, the toilet. By the time he came back from an exercise when we lived in Yellowknife, my mother was on a first name basis with most handymen in the area. My father took comfort in the fact that it took multiple men to replace him. My mother laughed at him.

My father cross stitched many beautiful things. In my mother’s living room hangs a large sampler, stitched on black Aida. He stitched it in 1987, and had it framed for her under uv resistant glass for their 20th wedding anniversary, about 17 years later. He is much more responsible than I am with his work, keeping it rolled up in blue tissue paper in a drawer in the basement. More on how I store embroidery later (look for a blog post called “The Box of Shame”). He has also started the most beautiful triptych ever, an Amish farm scene with gardens and quilts. He is two thirds of the way through and has been for the last ten years. Such is the way sometimes.

I don’t remember when I asked him to show me how to cross stitch, but I remember the pattern was a ridiculously girly bear in a purple dress. I went into his ridiculously organized floss collection and picked out the colours I needed. He got a bit upset when I didn’t put the browns back in in order, but I survived. Then he saw the back of my work and berated me on the back not being as tidy as the front. That’s right: my dad is one of them.

I eventually gave up on that little bear with the purple dress. She has probably been thrown out in one of the many moves since that time. But that bear, on what was probably 16 pt aida, planted the seed I needed to decide to pick up stitching and embroidery years later. My father and grandfather, no matter what their motivations for doing cross stitch was at the time, showed me that there was not only beauty to be made with thread and fabric, but that you could also do it even if it wasn’t expected of you, even if you were doing it in unexpected places. That tends to happen to me a lot, so I’m pleased I have that backing me up.