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!


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!

Six Onesies, Or Finding (non-pattern) Patterns

I am currently 32 weeks pregnant and slowly but surely amassing an epic amount of adorable baby clothes (as if there was any other kind).  I have a little hat with a monkey face, stripey socks, and a pretty stripe-y black and white dress amongst other things.  But as my husband and I were sorting the clothing by size, we realised that although we had lots of 3-6 and 6-9 month clothes, we were seriously lacking in 0-3 months, which we kind of needed first.  Seems like an excellent excuse to go shopping and embroider something adorable!

I went and picked up 6 identical white onesies, for about 25$.  Super plain, boat neck, snaps at the crotch, etc.  Now what to put on them?I’ve had something up on my Embroidery & Patterns I Like Pinterest board for a while now, and this was the perfect opportunity to use it.  But it’s not really a pattern.  It’s a font.

Are they not super adorable?  The font is $4 for a private license, which is all I needed to stitch them onto onesies.  I played with them for a while, eventually choosing three per design.  They came together in a slow afternoon.

Stitching on jersey is harder than I thought it would be, just because of how stretchy it is.  You need to be careful and not stitch too tight or too fast to make sure that your stitches stay nice and you don’t ruin the fabric.

Tracing out the patterns was also a bit more difficult than on a more sturdy fabric, but I found that if I put my rotary cutting board inside the onesie, it wasn’t too bad and I could get a good impression.  I definitely used a tracing stylus (from Sublime Stitching) instead of a pen, cause the soft fabric tended to lead to torn paper and I didn’t want to mark up my work.

I used mostly split stitch, with little straight stitch legs and beaks, and a few little lazy daisies for certain feathers.  I had to make the beaks and eyes a bit bigger to be able to see them properly in stitches, but that’s all good.

I definitely recommend you look at more of Miss Tiina’s work and the whole Sugar Hill co. website.  It has tons of vector doodles that, although intended for digital scrapbooking, could be easily and cheaply adapted to embroidery.  Make sure you read each artist’s Terms of Service, to make sure that what you plan on doing with the design is fine by them (especially if you plan to sell anything you stitch – some designers may not allow it, or may ask you to pay a different price than if you are using it for personal means).

A few adorable mentions include these Blooming Doodles, these metal dress forms and even these Christmas light strings!  Scrapbooking sites and colouring pages (both online and in real life) can be great resources for embroiderers.  QisforQuilter made a beautiful redwork Hello Kitty quilt for her daughter using over 30 different images from a colouring book.  It’s super cute!

Hopefully you’ll get an update later this summer when she wears them, unless she looks like Winston Churchill.  Bah, who am I kidding, there’ll definitely be an update.


Vintage Finds in Real Life (with pretty bird patterns)

Last week I pointed out a few good resources for finding vintage patterns online, but there is something exciting about holding a vintage iron on transfer in your hands, or reading a book that says that embroidery is not only one of the most important skills a woman can know, it goes a long way towards getting her married.  Awesome.

I have gotten pretty lucky finding older materials in good shape, so I thought I would share a few hints with you.  Book wise, is the best place to find used books.  You can look up books, then sort it by which vendors are closest to you, in order to get the best shipping costs.  I have bought a few books off of abe, and most of the time I will pay less for the book than for the shipping!

Encyclopedia of Needlework by Th. de Dillmont is a thick, tiny book that is a fabulous look into the past.  The copy I got is in reasonable shape, with the spine having been taped up at some point.  There is no obvious date on this book.  The pages are all still there and legible, and it goes through an extraordinary amount of crafts, from embroidery to tatting to knitting and more.  The instructions are mostly written with a few illustrations sprinkled in.  I love thinking that a woman, by herself with this tiny book, would have learned all these techniques through trial and error (and hopefully help from a friendly neighbour) without having the step by step tutorials and videos we take for granted nowadays.

The back of the book also has an old ordering catalogue for DMC, so that if you were a farm wife living far from the city, you could ask your local grocer to order you a particular few shades so you could finish the embroidered tablecloth you’d been working on.

I’ve also had good luck ordering used (and new) craft books on Etsy.  I ordered a 1964 version of Jacqueline Enthoven’s The Stitches of Creative Embroidery last year and I’ve read it cover to cover.  She concentrates on the importance of samplers and doodling with a needle, has lots of pictures of both her work and her students’, and is super inspiring.  The book is missing it’s dust jacket, but who cares when the content is so awesome?

My mother, sister, and I try to reupholster a few chairs every summer; it’s a fun hobby we can do on the weekends together.  My sister is excellent at demolishing the old chairs, my mom sews beautifully, and I can hammer tacks like nobody’s business.  What this all means is that we tend to hang out at estate sales, thrift shops, and auction houses more than average girls.

Charity shops are hit and miss for vintage finds; sometimes you can pick up a book or a slightly older pattern, but most of the time you’ll just find super cheap embroidery hoops and maybe some random colours of thread.  Still excellent, but not quite vintage.

Estate sales are also tricky, since you never know if the person who recently died was interested in embroidery or not.  Every once in a while though, even if you can’t find embroidery materials, you can find embroidered pieces.  I pulled these three little birds off a wall, fell in love with the dorky stitching on black velvet, and paid a dollar for it.

Auction houses can be interesting.  They tend to buy up estate sales, so you can end up with everything and anything there.  One of the auction houses near my sister’s place is open on weekends, and some of the stuff (mostly furniture on consignment) can be browsed and purchased without having to actually attend an auction (which is not as exciting as it sounds, we found out).

I found two old Coats and Clark’s craft booklets that look like they are from the 60s or 70s.  The prices on the covers are 49 and 35 cents.  I paid a dollar for both.

Both had complete patterns in them, with only one of them being cut out.  They have a mix of embroidery, cross stitch and blackwork in them.  Some patterns have definitely aged better than others, and some of them are so adorably classic that they wouldn’t look out of place in a home today.  Most of the patterns also come with projects; skirts, napkins, glasses cases, wall hangings, whatever.

Here are two of the patterns from the small Coats booklets, three pretty little birds which are suggested for a cute little girl’s dress.  They come out of Book No. 180, and are designs E-182 and E-183.  There is no date anywhere in the booklet.  The patterns are a bit busy; as with a lot of old transfers, folding, time and pressure has caused patterns to imprit on each other.  I would definitely never use them with an iron for fear that I could get two patterns at the same time!  Still, they are super adorable and would look cute pretty much anywhere.

Please do not use these for commercial purposes.   Enjoy!

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet…

I have a particular piece of text, written by Shakespeare, which is very close to my heart. I have thought of getting it tattooed many times before, and I decided I was going to stitch it this spring. After figuring out how to make it pretty and round on the computer (thank you David!) I realised the smallest I could make the text is size 21. That is big for typing, but pretty small for stitching.

So I decided I needed a smaller piece of text for practice, something that was still going to be a good paragraph but nothing too fancy. So this happened:

For an awesome history of lorem ipsum, check out this page.  If you would like to stitch it, here is the full original dummy text (that has been in use since the 1500s) shaped into a pretty circle.  I picked a nice non-serif font in order to be able to trace it more or less in my own hand writing.  I didn’t want all the letters to be exact or too perfect.  The hoop is 5×5 inches.

I’m not sure when I will get to my Hamlet piece, which is easily twice as long as the lorem ipsum, but we’ll see!

Subersive Sues – Slightly NSFW

Why is it so much fun to combine something innocent and childlike, like a Sunbonnet Sue or a lovely little bit of cross stitch sampler, with something rude or obscene?  It’s not like I’m the first.  Subversive Cross Stitch has been around since forever, offering pretty samplers with  delicious sayings such as “Don’t Make Me Cut You” or “Chill The Fuck Out“.  MrXstitch has a weekly column called NSFW Saturdays where the only thing between the reader and stitched rudeness is an adorable picture of a kitten or a bunny.

Maybe the urge is nasty: the desire to pervert a genre and a style so grounded in preciseness and propriety, that we just want to wreck it because we can.  But I don’t think that’s it.

Embroidery has for the longest time been a feminine endeavor.  It’s what pretty ladies learned to do to occupy their time and it’s how housewives made their homes more homey.  The patterns I used for my three little girls were supposed to be for dish cloths, one for pans, one for china and one for dishes.  We live in such a different world; not only do I not see the point of having three (and more!) dish cloths for different types of dishes, I would never dream of using something that I spent time and effort on to wipe up wet dishes!  Embroidery is no longer as utilitarian as it has once been; it’s definitely more of an art form.

As art, we need it to say something.  If that something is Fuck, than so be it.  Honestly, it was the sight of this poor girl losing her balloon that made me think of it; what would I say if my balloon slipped out of my grasp: Fuck!

The three girls come from mmaammbr‘s flickr account, which holds thousand of beautiful vintage patterns.  They don’t really identify the origin of most of these patterns, so I would never use them for something I would sell, but for private use, they are fabulous.  They feature tons of kitchen themed pieces, as well as multiple sets of seven illustrations outlining which chores are to be done on which day of the week.  Did you know Tuesday is laundry day if you believe this chubby kitty?  I’m pretty sure laundry day is whenever the basket gets full for most of us.


Venus Fly Trap Crewelwork

I think crewelwork is my favourite type of embroidery.  I love how lush and tactile it is; I love the colours and the variations in feel and pattern.  It can be simple or exquisitely complicated and almost always comes out stunning.  What tends to bug me is the subject matter of crewelwork; floral girliness.  So, I kept the floral, added a bit of meat eating madness, and came up with this:In terms of stitches, the following work only uses three: stem stitch, chain stitch/back stitch combo and little straight stitches.  It only has 11 colours of thread in it.  And yet, the whole thing is soft and nearly alive.

My sister Julie drew out the pattern.  I wanted it to be reminiscent of more traditional patterns, like the ones in my favourite book, The Anchor Book of Crewelwork Embroidery Stitches (Eve Harlow, 9780715306321).  Most of the designs are bubbly and round, fitting perfectly into a hoop.  As my sister and I were discussing how I wanted the stems and leaves to be squatter and rounder than they are in real life, we realised that I wanted her to draw some chibi venus fly traps.  Adorable!

The gradient on the stems is achieved by combining two single threads of different shades of green at all times.  As I went darker or lighter, I tried my best to keep it soft and subtle.  So how the heck did I keep track of whether I was using green 730 or green 731? This little wonder:I got her from Girlontherock’s shop on etsy, and she has never been more useful to me than with this project.  It kept the threads tidy, allowed me to keep that one strand of six tidy and knot free and meant that I almost never had to hold up a few threads up to each other, trying to figure out what the difference was, if there was a difference at all.  She even has a little magnet to hold a needle close to her heart!The leaves were done in various shades of pinky-reds, first in chain stitch, and then skewered with a back stitch one shade lighter until the edge, where I made the back stitch darker again.  I took little tiny straight stitches in one strand of floss to make the feelers.

There is also a secret surprise in this piece.  One of the leaves has caught something!My family had a very healthy venus fly trap for almost three years.  We kept it inside, caught ants for it to eat with tweezers, and hand fed her once a week.  Once a leaf shuts, it tends to die.  The energy expended in closing the leaf is too much for a plant to handle unless there is food inside to offset the energy cost.  Sometimes, a well fed plant can reopen a leaf that has missed its target bug, but not often.  I stitched a small grain of rice into the closed leaf so that it had a good reason to be shut.  I tacked it in place and then stem stitched on top and around it so as to hide it properly.  The pictures do not really do justice to the slightly creepy feel of something hiding in the stitches.  I have had more than one person pull back their hand quickly and squirm.

Please feel free to use the pattern above for personal use, but do not sell anything you make from it.  If you make something with it, I would love to see it, so please leave a comment with a link.