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Saturday, March 27, 2010

Color inspiration from nature

In late April, I'll be taking a class with Margaret Bendig called Potpourri on Canvas. It sounds like a fun (yet perhaps frustrating) class. The canvas will be divided into 45 blocks of various sizes, and Margaret suggests stitches for each area, but the colors and threads are left to the stitcher's imagination.

As is often the case with classes like this, Margaret has suggested that one way to pick colors is to start with an overdyed thread and use it for inspiration for color families. I've decided to go another route.

I work at a company that (among other things) makes high-quality production printers. In selling these products, we always need to have print samples around to show the quality of our output prints. Occasionally, some of these print samples get left out in a common area so the employees can pick up some. They're often amazing photographs.

This is how the beauty of Arizona's Lower Antelope Canyon caught my eye. I've had a print of some of the standing waves from the canyon sitting on my desk for several weeks now. When the time came to pick out colors for Margaret's class, I decided to use this photograph (and similar online photos) as inspiration. Some of these photos have the most wonderful colors, like this one:

(This picture isn't actually the one on my desk. It's one I found online, and is shared under the terms of its Creative Commons license. Under those terms, I have to provide these links for attribution: http://www.flickr.com/photos/romainguy/ / CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.)

I pulled the palette colors from it in an image manipulation program. For my Potpourri class, I'm aiming for these colors, with perhaps a bit of yellow and magenta thrown in too.

I'm curious. What do you do when you have a chance to pick your own color scheme? What inspires your choices? This is my first time starting with a photo and pulling colors from it. I'm excited to see how it develops.

I'll let you know when I have a chance to go through my stash to find appropriate threads.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Santa's gold trim

On to Santa's details!

I started with the gold trim at the top and bottom of the navy area on his clothing (skirt? robe? tunic? what is this?). This is simply a heavy gold braid, perhaps a size 16, couched with a smaller metallic gold thread. In this case, the couching thread is the now-obsolete DMC Fil Or, but a size 4 braid or metallic floss would have worked.

The same threads were also used for couching the swirly design on the lower portion of Santa's red robe. I deliberately simplified the path of the right side of this line of couching since something else was going to go over it.

According to Santa's stitch guide, he was supposed to get a spider web rose in gold in that far right area. I tried this, but it didn't stick around. It looked like a big gold blob - not at all like the nice flower shown in Joan's original.

Instead, I kept the "spokes" of that web and turned them into fake bullion knots. I simply wrapped each of the spokes with the thicker gold thread, careful not to catch the red threads underneath everything. Then I added lazy daisies in between each of these spokes.

Unfortunately, since I no longer had a solid flower there, the original swirly line showed through the now-airy flower. It looked strange. I very carefully cut the couched thread in the middle of the flower. I pulled the thread out from under the flower and brought the ends to the back of the canvas on either side of the flower. Fortunately, there were only a few couching stitches used in this area. I was able to pull a few to the back, but a couple are still lurking underneath the flower. They're not visible, and that's all that matters.
From the photo, it's somewhat hard to tell, but this detail does add a bit of dimension. Perhaps a semi-side view would help...
Adding little details like these to pictorial projects (as opposed to geometrics or samplers, for example) is really simple and can have a lot of impact. In this case, some of the details were called out in the stitch guide, but this experience is an example of how easy it is to add some zing with a bit of embellishment.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Oriental stitch background

As of last week, my hand has recovered sufficiently from carpal tunnel surgery to allow me to pick up some canvas work. My attention was caught by Joan Thomasson's Celebration Santa. Over the course of three or four days, I was able to FINALLY finish Santa's background.

The background is stitched in Oriental stitch using four strands of Needle Necessities floss. When I began the background (months ago), my first impression was that this stitch seemed quite large for the background. In fact, I still think it's a bit large, but I think it will be fine once Santa is finished into a stand-up figure. The curved surface of the figure, especially at the edges, will, I hope, help Santa stand out and the background recede a bit. What do you think?

Santa still needs quite a bit more work, but most of it is fun touches. Stay tuned for the details!

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Changes coming to Just String

Just String (a.k.a. this blog) turns three years old today. Over the past three years, I've been blessed with the continuation of a happy marriage, a wonderful daughter, lots of amazing stitching opportunities, and a fair number of loyal blog-reading friends. Thank you all for the amazing support, especially over the past year or so.

That said, it's about time for a blog overhaul. I'm not sure when all of this is going to happen, but I wanted to give you all a heads up that change is in the air.

So, what's changing? It might actually be better to tell you what's not changing: the focus of Just String. This blog has always been primarily about encouraging stitchers, either directly or by example, to try something new and to stretch their stitchy muscles. That will not change, unless it's to improve!

The major change is the move to a new website on a custom domain. Blogger/blogspot just doesn't do everything I want to do! Don't worry. It should be a pretty seamless transition for all of you:

  • I'm working on making all of the old links point to the new Just String.
  • In case somebody does get through to the old site, there will be a link there to get to the new version.
  • For all of you reading this via an web (RSS) feed, the feed will automatically transition to the new site. (And if you don't know what a web feed is, don't worry. If you're curious, check out this site.)
Some of the improvements in the pipeline include:
  • A new look and feel. Hooray!
  • Better organization of the site
  • A comment form so you can send me email. I've always avoided putting my email address here to cut down on spam.
  • New types of content:
    • Stitchy book reviews (both new books and oldies-but-goodies)
    • Giveaways
    • Some "back to basics" articles so we can all improve or refresh our techniques (and help newbies)
    I've got a few other ideas percolating in the back of my mind, but I'm not quite ready to announce them yet. Suggestions are welcome!
  • The ability to get new posts delivered by email (for those who don't use an RSS reader)
As with many changes, though, there will be some logistical adjustments:
  • Advertising. Up 'til now, I haven't had any advertising on the site, aside from a couple of affiliate links to Amazon over the past few months. The reality is that a having a custom domain and hosting giveaways both cost money. I'd like to be open and honest about this.

    In the very near future (even before moving to the new site), I'll be adding links to both Amazon and Abe Books (great for out of print books) to the sidebar. Using these links doesn't cost you any more or less money than going directly to these sites, but I'll earn a (very small) percentage of your purchase if you use my links. You may also see links to these sites in book reviews, and yes, purchasing through those links will help, too.

    Over time, I may add more advertising, but please accept my promise that I'll make sure it doesn't take over the site. I hate spammy blogs, and I'm sure you do, too!
  • Refocusing. Prior my pregnancy, Just String stayed very focused on needlework. Since the end of 2008, though, quite a bit of my family life has found its way into my posts. I have enjoyed sharing the joy that Erin has brought into our lives, and have been immensely grateful for all of your support through our medical difficulties. Thank you.

    However (you knew there was going to be a "however"!), with the move to the new site, I plan on posting with my full name. In the interest of keeping Just String as specific as possible and also for Erin's safety (since we have a very uncommon last name), I will not be continuing to post "Erin updates" here. I'll also be removing past photos and stories about her. I apologize for making this move, and I know it's not going to be very popular, but I need to act in her best interest.

    The good news is that I am starting a separate site, completely unlinked to Just String, and I'll be moving all of the Erin updates there. I know who has posted comments to my previous updates, and I'll be happy to give access to Erin's site to those of you who would like to keep following her story. Please either leave a comment with an email address (which I'll later delete) here or wait until the new site is up and use my contact form to request the site's address.
Thanks again for all of your fantastic support over the past three years. Here's looking forward to many more years of sharing stitching advice, frustrations, and successes.

As always, I welcome your comments and suggestions.

Oh, and Happy St. Patrick's Day! :-)

Monday, March 15, 2010

Poll Results: Hand Lotions

To conclude the discussion about hand lotions, I'd first like to thank the 63 of you who voted in the poll. (I was the 64th. :-) ) Here's how the voting ended up:

First Place, with 22 votes (34%):
     Udder Cream, from Udderly Smooth

Second Place, with 16 votes (25%):
     moisturize and treat only when not stitching

Third Place, a three-way tie with 5 votes:
     Acid Mantle
     Stitcher's Lotion
     other (please leave a comment!)*

Honorable Mention, with 4 votes:
     Gloves in a Bottle

Runners-up, with one or two votes each:
     Au ver a Soie cream
     none - just drink more water
     St. Ives Whipped Lotion
     Zoom Dry Therapy
     homemade lotion

Only one entry (Skin M.D.) was completely left out. I'll have to find some and try it.

*As for those who voted for "other", only one left a comment (thanks, Pat!), and mentioned Aveda Hand Relief. I'm not sure if this is put on before stitching, or only used when not stitching. Pat, can you please educate us?

Thanks again for voting! By the way, does anyone have other suggestions for polls? What do you want to know about your fellow stitchers?

Sunday, March 14, 2010

One more day left to vote!

Just a quick reminder: if you haven't already voted on which lotion you use while stitching (or none at all), you've got just one more day.

Voting ends at 6:45PM tomorrow, March 15. Thanks!

Up close and personal with parts of the Plimoth Jacket project

*** Update: Tricia finally posted about this presentation, and I was surprised to see my own face in her post. I'm the one with the glasses on top of my head! ***

This past Tuesday, March 9, the exhibition of the Plimoth Jacket opened at Winterthur Museum. This past Friday, Tricia Wilson Nguyen visited RIT (my alma mater) to give a lecture about the project. I had the very great pleasure of attending the lecture.

There were three parts to Tricia's presentation. The first part was an overview of what it took to create the ensemble (jacket, coif, and forehead cloth). This included the recreation of several threads (such as Gilt Sylke Twist) and the participation of nearly 300 people - stitchers, spanglers, lacemakers, and textile manufacturers. The embroidery and assembly took 3700 hours to complete!

Next was a discussion of how the data gathered from this project has helped reinterpret how embroidered garments were made in the past. Historians have often assumed that a jacket such as this was the work of only one person. While experienced embroiderers can often look at samples of stitching and quickly discern the differences in tension resulting from various hands, Tricia has actually devised a way to mathematically prove this.

It's accomplished by analyzing the stitch regularity (any extra or missed stitches, as well as tension inconsistencies) and frequency (stitch size) of patches of detached buttonhole. It turns out that detached buttonhole can be mathematically analyzed in ways similar to nanocrystalline structures! The result is that while a patch of stitches isn't distinctive enough to pinpoint exactly who stitched it, we can certainly identify various levels of stitching experience.

The benefit is that existing examples of embroidery from the seventeenth century can now be analyzed to determine approximately how many hands were involved. Tricia warns that it's not exact, but that we can definitively say things like "at least 6 different people worked on this".  There's a lot more work left to do to analyze all of the detached buttonhole patches on the jacket ensemble (through close-up photographs) to see what else can be discovered about the past.

The last part of the presentation was perhaps of less interest to the stitchers in the audience, but was fascinating to the technical folks. (Being an engineer and stitcher, I appreciated the whole thing!) Tricia talked about her other business, Fabric Works, which is a consulting firm specializing in electronic textiles. The really neat thing is that Tricia actually uses traditional needlework techniques to prototype some of these e-textiles. For example, because production braiding machines waste so much material simply to get the machines threaded and ready to make braid and because the materials being used are very expensive, she used traditional Japanese braiding techniques for kumihimo to make prototype lengths of braid. In other instances, she's used the Japanese embroidery method of hand-twisting threads to create prototype threads that contain metal. Only somebody with thorough knowledge of traditional textile methods as well as a scientific background could manage this!

While I really enjoyed the presentation, perhaps the best part of the evening was at the end. Remember how I said that the jacket project also involved a forehead cloth and coif? Well, right now only the jacket is on display at Winterthur. The other pieces are still in Tricia's possession. Hooray! Yes, I had the opportunity to examine them without a piece of glass getting in the way. They truly are works of art.

Unfortunately, I neglected to bring my "real" camera, and had to make do with my cell phone. Here's the coif:

A close-up of a bird on the coif. To get an idea of the scale of this, the bird is about 2-1/2 inches long.

The forehead cloth:
I admit these pictures aren't the best. Here's a much better picture of the forehead cloth on Tricia's site.

Thanks again, Tricia, for a thoroughly enjoyable evening!

Monday, March 8, 2010

New poll: Favorite lotions to use while stitching

Thanks for all of the responses to my questions about hand lotions. There are certainly a variety of ways stitchers keep their hands soft!

As promised, I've added a poll with the lotions suggested, and included a couple of alternatives to lotion, as well. The poll will stay open until Friday, March 15. Please let us all know your preference! (If you're reading this via an RSS reader, please stop by Just String and vote.)

(Note: I have not tried or investigated all of the lotions recommended by readers, so I can't vouch for all of them being safe for stitching. Please read ingredient labels and use your best judgment when trying a new lotion for use during a stitching session!)

Sunday, March 7, 2010

The return of in-hand work!

Hooray! I can now think about finishing some of the hardanger projects or the beading project in my WIP pile.

Look what I managed to finish in only about 3-4 hours:

This is the primary Morning Glories temari from an online class with Barb Suess. There are two more from the class, and I hope to get to them soon.

I started this over the summer, but couldn't manage to work on it for any length of time. Now I can say that I've actually stitched a temari! It's not perfect, but I'm not totally embarrassed about it either.

I can honestly say that I have no regrets about going in for the carpal tunnel surgery -- except that I put it off for WAY too long. Aside from a bit of lingering tenderness at the incision site and the need to avoid heavy lifting or pulling, I'm almost completely back to using my right hand normally - including taking care of a certain little person.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Hand lotions for use while stitching?

In response to my most recent post, SilkLover (what's your name, hon?) commented about using hand lotions while stitching. She had a good suggestion about asking at the LNS. Your shop should be able to recommend lotions that won't leave a residue on your work.

I confess I'm a bit ignorant when it comes to what specific ingredients to avoid when looking for a stitching-safe hand cream. Can any of you help define this?

I generally trust needlework shops when they say a lotion or cream is ok to use for stitching. I've tried several types over the years, including:

  • Gloves in a Bottle. This is the lotion my LNS currently carries. I used it for a while, and (in my opinion) it's fine for summertime, when my hands aren't terribly dry. It really does feel like there's a bit of a protective coating on your hands. I don't find that this lotion helps to moisturize my hands, though, so it's not my ideal lotion for winter.
  • Au ver a Soie Hand Cream. This cream comes from the makers of wonderful silk threads, so it should be good, right? Well, yes, it is, but it also comes with a pretty hefty price tag ($14 for a small tube). I didn't find it enough of an improvement over some of the other lotions out there to warrant the price.
  • Stitcher's Lotion. I received a small tube of this as a gift, and I really liked it. If I couldn't find my favorite cream out there, this would be my choice. Plus it comes in some wonderful scents!
  • Udderly Smooth Udder Cream. Yes, it's a silly name. It really was designed to be safe for cows' udders, but it's my hands-down favorite for use while stitching. I have had a hard time finding it lately, though. My LNS stopped carrying it a few years ago. For a while I could get it at Target, but not recently. Fortunately, MIL called yesterday saying that she got an ad for Rite-Aid, where it was on sale for only $0.99 for 4oz! She sent FIL to the store, and he cleaned them out (all 6 tubes). Even when this isn't on sale, it's only around $3-$4.
What about you? What other options do we stitchers have? In a day or two I'll create a poll with all of the lotions mentioned (above and in comments) to see what everyone prefers.