Latest Estate Sale Finds

Aren’t these totally kitch and adorable?  My mother and I, hesitantly followed by my sister who felt she hadn’t been given all the pertinent information about this trip, found them in a smallish house’s estate sale.   The cupboards were full of white melamine plates and bowls, the basement had a bar decorated with British posters, and in the bedroom, on the wall behind the bed frame, were these two pieces.

I spotted the fact that they were shadow boxes before I even noticed they were embroidered.  Looking out for frames without glass and for shadow boxes is a great way to identify embroidery.  Since embroidery stitches tend to suffer when being crushed under the glass in a traditional framing job, the nicer jobs will typically leave at least a bit of room for the stitches’ 3D-ness to breathe.  There is nearly an inch of room in these frames.

After stepping through the bed frame and pulling them off the wall, I immediately asked how much.  Ten dollars?  Sold!  The people in charge of the estate sale had no idea they were embroidery and not just paintings.  I probably would have had to pay more if they had looked a bit closer.

When I got them home, the glass was so dusty that I thought dust had actually gotten inside the frames.  A quick wash with a bit of soapy water later, I realised they were in excellent shape, just filthy.

There are lots of different knots and techniques, and the two frames look beautiful together, near my kokeshi doll collection and the Xbox. I think they are on silk, but I’m not sure what kind of thread was used. Can anyone identify the thread?  It’s super glossy, but I can’t even really tell if it’s stranded or not.  I think it is…

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The Perfect Stitches for Mushrooms, Snakes and Snails?

One of the patterns I drew up recently features Alcohol Inky Caps, pretty, semi-poisonous mushrooms.  I was instantly struck by the caps as they matured and rolled up, and with a bit of research I learned that this is a typical mushroom move, exposing their spores and curling up as they dry out, allowing the spores closer to the centre to have access to the outside world.  It seems a lot of mushrooms do this, if you check out these cute little guys I saw outside my apartment building.

To me, the drying, underside of the mushrooms look just like a thick, black buttonhole stitch.  The streaky lines are the perfect analog for the spores and by combining two nearly black strands with one dark brown strand, I managed to get an organic look.

Some stitches lend themselves so perfectly to certain natural elements, it always amazes me.  Imagine a snail, sludging around, his shell a pretty swirl of bullion knots, maybe over felt padding to give it extra height.  Wouldn’t that be fabulous?  The Unbroken Thread recently featured a very clear tutorial on bullion knots, which I plan to practice to get this snail in reality.

Another project I am working on right now is a stitched version of this cute out of print poster for friends.  It’s a honey badger and he just don’t care.  To stitch the mess of snakes he is attacking/eating, I’m going to try and do a very tight, very small buttonhole stitch in various shades of green.  I am hoping that it’ll give each segment of the snake its own, completed look, while still looking messy and tangled.  It’ll be complicated, but I’m looking forward to it.  I plan to fill in the badger with crazy fuzzy stitches that’ll hopefully look like messy, dirty fur.  We’ll see how it goes!

Can you think of any other stitches that lend themselves extraordinarily well to embroidery?

Old Navy Twill (or stitching when stressed)

I am a tense individual.  I tend to joke that I’ll relax when I’m dead, which although technically true, isn’t much help on a daily basis.  The few times I attempted to learn how to knit, I had to cut the work off the knitting needles with an exacto knife – that is how tightly I knit.  I was no longer able to move the links around, much less try to insert two needles into one link to knit.

When I started embroidery, I worked on lots of different fabrics, but mostly quilter’s 100% cotton.  I mostly stuck to backstitch and stem stitch, because if I tried to use any filling stitches or any stitches that pierced the fabric too much, I tore it.  I would do a block of satin or long and short stitch and end up seeing daylight through the fabric around the filled in area.  Sometimes, like above, my stitches would bunch up the fabric and no hooping could fix it. (Pretty deer pattern by UrbanThreads)  My French knots would rip right through the piece to the back of the fabric (and those are absolutely the worst to try and fix afterwards!).

As I was browsing at my local big box fabric store with my mother, my eye landed on Old Navy Twill, and I fell in love.  It’s typically used to make uniforms and blazers.  It has a great weight to it, and different textures on either side of the fabric.  One side is more even, and one has small lines across it.  I left the above file pretty large, so if you click through you should be able to see the difference between the first fold, which is the even side, and the lined ones below it.  I have found it in about 10-15 colours, though my favourites to work with are the slightly off-whites.  EDIT: I have also seen it once called Galaxy Twill, which may be a brand name for it, but may help you find it/ask for it in fabric stores!

It’s not normal fabric for embroidery.  It’s probably not really recommended.  What it does for me is allow me to use whatever stitch I want and whatever technique I want without worrying about being as gentle as possible in order to not rip French knots through the piece or pull the fabric part at the figurative seams.  It takes pencil and chacopaper marks well which is always fabulous.  It lets me play with my work instead of stressing about it.

What shortcuts/tricks do you use to make embroidery fun and less stressful?  I’m also totally guilty of using quilter’s knots to start my threads (click the link for an awesome tutorial).  Aren’t I a rebel?  😉

Pretty Poison Hemlock (How I Drew Up My First Real Pattern)

I recently just went on maternity leave, which although nice for all the rest I am getting, is boring as hell.  I am so bored I keep losing days!  So in an attempt to ward off this terrible boredom that I’m sure will be cured once the baby pops, I started a PDF pattern shop.   I wanted to talk about how I created the patterns and what tools I used to do it, in case someone else wanted to give making their own patterns a shot!

I knew I wanted to do something pretty and floral, but there are so many plants around, I didn’t have any idea where to head.  I’ve always loved poisonous plants, so I started there.  I borrowed a book called Wicked Plants, by Amy Stewart (isbn 9781565126831) and read it cover to cover, noting down the names of any plants I liked the sound of, looking them up in Google images in order to get a better idea of what they looked like.  A few stuck out to me for their interesting physical characteristics or their apparent innocent-ness.

Poison Hemlock is adorable; cute little bunches of tiny white flowers, tidy bright green leaves, and the name even sounds dignified, if you leave out the poison part!  I knew I had to simply the design if I wanted to stitch it up.  I could have reduced all the blooms to french knots and concentrated on the plant as a whole, but I liked the five little uneven petals and wanted to feature them.

I drew inspiration from my many books on basic crewelwork, simplifying the plant down to it’s very basic parts: one example of the leaves, two of the circular bloom bundles.  I sketched out what I wanted, played with it for a little bit, then scanned it in.

My husband previously helped me with a couple patterns by translating them from sketch to vector design in Inkscape.  This time, I wanted to do it all myself.  He gave me a quick crash course in drawing lots of different vector lines and off I went.  Every once in a while I would yell something along the line of “David!  My lines keep going funny, come and show me what I’m doing wrong!” and he would helpfully show me a setting I had ticked on or off or whatever.  When he wasn’t there, Google became my husband, with excellent searches such as “Inkscape how to make this thing always be that line thickness!” which helped.  Because Inkscape is open source, there is a great community of forum users who have already helped noobs like me.  I managed to get all my questions answered in no time at all.

The key to working with Inkscape is layers.  You want to put your sketch on the bottom layer, and then in a new layer with a reduced opacity (so you can see your sketch lines through it) you can start drawing.  When you’re done tracing everything and you’re happy with where your lines have ended up, just delete/hide your sketch layer, pump up the opacity on your trace back up to 100% and bam!  You have a pattern.

The great thing about vectors is that you can change the size at will and it will stay nice.  So I could have stitched my design teeny tiny without losing any of the crispness in the lines.

After printing it out and tracing it out with chacopaper, it came together very quickly.  There are five shades of “white” in the flowers, although I can really only identify four of them when all is said and done (oh well!) and there are five different shades of green in the leaves, stems and centers of the flowers. I love how the flowers aren’t all the same shape, which was achieved by actually tracing my sketch instead of tracing one flower and cutting and pasting.  Having some flowers be a bit more messy and wind tossed makes the piece interesting to look at and adds naturalness to the piece.

If you decide to either stitch up my Poison Hemlock pattern or to design your own pattern using Inkscape, I would love to see it!  Leave a comment or shoot me an email!

Cross Stitch Pendant from the workroom

IMPORTANT NOTE: The workroom is currently sold out of the wooden pendants, but their website says they’ll be restocked on June 20th!

As soon as I saw the wooden pendants from the workroom on the needlework section of Craftgossip, I knew I had to have one.  I was even more pleased when I found out they were from a Canadian shop from Toronto, since that means I can go down in person next time I am down there!  Anyway, the pendant arrived shortly after I ordered it, along with an adorable little pair of scissors I also fell in love with.  Part of me wants to wear the scissors as a pendant too; it’s just that pretty.

The pendant is light but sturdy and I couldn’t wait to stitch something on it… and then hit a wall.  What did I want to do?  Something girly and floral?  Something geometric and bold?  I didn’t want to waste this beautiful piece on a design I wouldn’t want to wear over and over.  I also don’t know how well the piece would hold up to restitching, so I wanted to get it right the first time.

It took me a few months and and three four cross stitch design books at the library to find what I was looking for.  Searching “small cross stitch designs” in google is less helpful than one might think.

I finally hit the jackpot in the Better Homes and Garden book, 2001 Cross Stitch Designs (isbn: 9780696207808).  A lot of the designs are really super corny and girly, but most of them are quite small and a lot of them are very nice too.  The floral section is seperated by colour, which is nice, and it also includes flowers for each month and all of the US State flowers.  I found the flower I stitched in the borders section of the book; it was a little less realistic than some of the flowers in the floral section, and it also looked like it could work without adding the backstitch that was so popular in a lot of the other flowers. I wasn’t sure how the pendant would take backstitch and didn’t want to risk it.

The design is a bit off center, but I am still happy with it (it really doesn’t show when I am wearing it).

a dork with a needle PDF Pattern shop!

Just a quick note: I’ve opened a pattern shop!  It features designs that I have drawn/designed/stitched myself, and will also feature pretty designs that my sister Julie has drawn (she is the one who drew my tentacle and my venus fly trap!)

Designs currently include a pretty Poison Hemlock, an Alchohol Inky Cap and a Sensational Allium/Beetle combo.  Future designs will include an ant with dreams, a sneaky magpie and hopefully a few more adorable creatures from Julie.

The great thing about these patterns is that although you could use the colours and stitches that I used, you could take each design in a completely different direction and end up with something gorgeous anyway.  I’d love to hear feedback on the site/designs, so please drop me an email or a comment here!