Friday, April 24, 2009

Book of the Week: TNAA How to Needlepoint

The National NeedleArts Association publication "How to Needlepoint" is an excellent publication for beginning stitchers. First off, it is very affordable ($6.95). Secondly, it gives a lot of information in a small package (30 p. ) so it doesn't require a huge investment of either time or money.

I especially like the section on background information. It is quite comprehensive, giving basic information on the various types of canvas, threads and needles as well as information on how to do the tent stitch using both the Continental and the Basketweave methods.

How to Needlepoint is also a good introduction to the world decorative stitches featuring such easy beginning stitches as the Mosaic stitch, Scotch stitch, Gobelin, and Florentine. However, it also includes information on some more challenging decorative stitches such as the Diamond Eyelet, Sheaf stitch, Smyrna Cross and Leaf Stitch.

The book includes a useful glossary of common needlepoint terms. All the information is presented in a clear, straightforward manner with good diagrams and directions.

Next time you are in the shop, check it out. It is over in the "Beginner Section" (did you know that we had a beginner section of the store?) or just ask anybody at the store should be able to find it for you. Happy stitching!

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Stitch of the Week: Diagonal Scotch

I selected the Diagonal Scotch Stitch when I encountered it as a background on one of the finished pieces we have in the shop from Needle Crossings. I thought it was a handsome background. I was concerned however that it would not prove interesting enough for the class. We've already had a class on Scotch stitch and people picked up on it right away so I was worried about devoting another hour to what is admittedly only a minor variation.

Well, I needn't have worried as my library of needlepoint books provided me with an ample supply of variations to keep the class occupied for the full hour. But first let me explain the Diagonal Scotch Stitch. Essentially it is the Scotch stitch worked on the diagonal where the smallest stitch is shared by the units. The stitch covers the canvas well and works up quickly. It will however pull the canvas out of shape so it requires the use of a frame. Also the stitch uses more thread than an "average" stitch (whatever that means).

The stitch is useful for large areas including backgrounds as it requires a medium to large area in order for the pattern to show. Large articles of clothing and tree tops look good when done in Diagonal Scotch Stitch and variegated thread.

Variations on the stitch include the use of two colors, creating diagonal stripes. One can also work a row of Continental in between each diagonal row of Scotch stitches. One of the most popular variations for the class was working the stitch over a trame thread of Kreinik braid and omitting the smallest portion of the stitch (the stitch that goes over one canvas intersection and that is shared by both units). The result is an interesting effect that looks more complicated than it is.

One final tip regarding the Diagonal Scotch stitch is to keep in mind that the longest stitch in the next row of stitches goes underneath the shortest stitch in the previous row. As long as you do this you should be in good shape. Happy stitching!

News from the Shop

So -- first off, let me apologize for not having written in so long. When I started this blog I swore I was never going to start an entry by saying "Sorry I haven't written." It seems to me that every blogger does that all the time so that is why I didn't want to do it -- but once again I have discovered that I am not so very different from every one else. A good lesson that I keep needing to re-learn.

So, sorry I haven't written. Last week at the store we had a giant trunk show arrive (the third one currently in residence). These trunk shows are great because they give us a chance to expand our inventory dramatically, share with our customers lots of stuff that we might not otherwise have in stock and the shows also give us a chance to photograph the material and add it to our web site. However, all of this requires work and lots of it.

Nancy is out of the store this week and I had to take a day off to go to upstate New York plus we have had the frog classes and well ... you get the point.

Speaking of the frog classes, things seem to be going well. This is week three and just about everyone has made significant progress on their chosen canvas. I've been impressed by the work that people have done and also by their willingness to move outside their comfort zone.

My frog has been slow going. I chose a background called Litchee Nut that is pretty complex. It consists of three steps -- a large cross stitch across four intersections, an upright cross placed in between the cross stitches and then a final pass to cross over the central portion of the cross stitch. I am doing the cross stitch portion in Impressions Navy Blue. The canvas is painted black but Nancy and I choose dark blue because we felt that it was more interesting plus it is going to "read" black anyway. I am doing the upright cross potion in Kreinik #8 braid (color = #060 Midnight). The combination makes for a subtle effect as the two colors are close together but it is lovely too -- lace-y and sparkle-y at the same time.

I've also begun work on another section of my frog using Prism. This is an interesting thread. It is like working with fishing line because it is thin and transparent. Because the thread is transparent it allows the painted canvas to show through, an effect that I am not totally sure I love but I am going with it anyway. I am using this special needle and four plys of the thread and it is taking a little while to get used to it. The end result is interesting-- a glistening, opalescent effect that I had hoped would look like glass. We'll see.

This week in frog class we explored dimensional stitches and altered thread. We did things a little differently. Everyone got a doodle canvas and together we explored some dimensional stitches (French Knots, Rhodes, Eyelet and Spider). Then it was on to altered threads. We made little ribbon flowers using a River Silk 4 mm ribbon and a running stitch with one ply of embroidery floss. We also did some gathering/ruching with Frosty Rays, Sparkle Rays and even Silk & Ivory. It was fun. I think for the most part the participants were unfamiliar with some of the techniques.

Next week, we will be exploring couching and padding. Nancy will be back on the job so I look forward to just being an assistant once again.

The Lee trunk show that arrived last week has drawn a lot of attention and rightfully so. We received the full line of bags, boxes, CD cases, etc. These are very affordable items with space for a finished needlepoint to be inserted. They make wonderful gifts or even a special something for yourself. What I like about them, aside from their price, is that they are small projects and can be completed relatively quickly.

If you haven't already been in to see the Lee products make a point to do so. Also, check out the new window display on Chestnut Street. These spectacular canvases (Empress/Emporer with Border) are on 13 mesh. They measure nearly two feet by four feet in size (22 x 46). The cost? $750 each -- but just imagine these two done up on your wall -- talk about spectacular!

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Stitch of the Week: Knitting Stitch

One of my needlepoint books calls this stitch "one of the best background" stitches. I am not sure that I totally agree with that (though I do like the stitch). However, I definitely agree with the book's additional comment that the stitch has "texture and a good amount of eye appeal."

Essentially, the knitting stitch is a diagonal stitch over two horizontal canvas threads and one vertical canvas thread. The direction of the stitch alternates from column to column creating a finished product that looks very much like the stockinette stitch in knitting. Obviously, this stitch would be a good stitch for any area where a knitted look is desired (such as sweaters, mittens, scarfs, etc.)

Because the stitch looks like knitting and is used to mimic knitted garments, wool is an obvious fiber choice. However, you could also use a 50/50 silk/wool blend for a more luxurious look or cotton for a more summery effect.

The stitch is firm and hard-wearing. It is easy to do and works up fairly quickly. One tip is to remember that each stitch starts one mesh above or below the last stitch.

Some of the variations that we explored included using two colors for a striped effect, shortening or lengthening the diagonal component of the stitch so that instead of going over two horizontal canvas threads you would go over one or three. Mindy, one of the attendees of our Stitch of the Week class (and a reader of this blog -- Hi Mindy!) also invented a variation where one column of stitches is done over one horizontal thread while the next column is done over three horizontal threads. The end result is a up-and-down effect where the over three columns come forward while the over one column recedes (light blue stitches above at far right, both photos). A pleasant effect.

The stitch can also be worked horizontally. In two shades of green one of my needlepoint books suggests that it would make excellent grass and I think it probably would.

I used the knitting stitch in my AVA pillow (I know, I know I said that I wasn't going to talk about it anymore!) and I really like how different it appeared from all the other stitches. If you haven't already tried it, give the knitting stitch a go. I don't think you will be disappointed.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

AVA Pillow Finale

Well, here it is. The final entry related to the AVA pillow. I finished the pillow on Thursday and Lisa Johnson picked it up to do the finishing. She had to block the stitched canvas as it width expanded and contracted according to the different stitches.

I used a total of 24 stitches. In order of appearance, they were: 1. Double Stitch 2.) Cashmere 3.) Diamond Ray 4. Gobelin Horizontal 5. Diagonal Mosaic 6. Gobelin Bars, Alternating 7. Basic Long Diagonal Stitch 8. Hungarian 9. Nobuko 10. Double Brick 11. Triple Parisian, Diagonal Variation 12. Knot Stitch 13. Diagonal Scotch 14. Gobelin Horizontal Bars with Elongated Cashmere 15. Diagonal Straight Gobelin 16. Vertical Milanese 17. Knit Stitch 18. Crossed Gobelin Bars 19. Double Straight Cross Stitch 20. Byzantine 21. Double Nobuko 22. Corduroy 23. Basketweave 24. Satin stitch

Lisa dropped the finished pillow off at the store on Saturday afternoon and she did an amazing job. She found a great fringe and she framed the front of the pillow with a cording made from the blue velvet backing. It looked fantastic.

Russell and I had a fun evening at the gala. It was at the new Please Touch Museum in Memorial Hall (Fairmount Park). Here we are riding the wonderful carousel that they have.

The auction went well. Our pillow sold for a lot of money -- to us! Here it is at it's new home! It looks pretty much like the old home!

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

New Feature: Book of the Week

We have a great selection of needlepoint-related books at Rittenhouse Needlepoint. I have no trouble saying this because I am an aficionado of needlepoint books and I've made it a point to have a good selection in the store. We actually considered renting a space for Rittenhouse Needlepoint that was below a bookstore and the guy who was going to rent the place to us said that he would not want us to sell books at all. At the time, I was willing to consider his request because I thought the space was a good one and cheap too. Well, the space didn't turn out to be as cheap as I had hoped and then the space that we are in right now became available and well I am glad that the whole thing didn't work out because I enjoy selling needlepoint books and I would not have liked to be prevented from so doing.

In an effort to jump-start sales of needlepoint related books. I thought that I would introduce some of my favorites. First up is The Needlepoint Book by Jo Ippolito Christensen. This is widely considered to be "the bible" for needlepoint and with good reason. At 428 pages, the book is about four times larger than most needlepoint books. The book was copyrighted in 1976 but was "revised and expanded" by Yolanda Christensen (is this her "real" name or her daughter?) in 1999.

The largest portion of the book is devoted to individual stitches. Each stitch includes a diagram, photograph and sometimes a brief description/commentary. The stitches have been subdivided into the following categories: straight, cross, tied stitches, eye , leaf, line, diagonal, decorative and box stitches. At the beginning of each chapter there is a graph that summarizes the characteristics of the stitches within that chapter. This is a convenient way of imparting a lot of information without repetition.

The first one hundred plus pages of the book are devoted to providing a comprehensive introduction to the craft of needlepoint. These pages include information about canvas, threads, design, color and even finishing (though there are better books on finishing out there).

For the most part, the finished projects shown are not "my cup of tea" though they are skillfully executed. Still, they definitely tend toward the overdone side of things. The diagrams can also be somewhat confusing. She tries to impart a lot of information in a small amount of space and the shorthand she uses takes some getting used to (repeated visits to page 135 -- "How to Read the Diagrams" were necessary for me). Most of the photos are in black and white but they are relatively clear and easy to interpret.

Having said that, there is no better resource available for a person interested in needlepoint.

Some Thoughts

I've been thinking lately about speed stitching. It's that darn AVA pillow that's got me to thinking. Nancy has been a huge help with the basketweaving of the letters this week but still it is just plain taking a lot of time. And I guess the lesson is -- time takes time. You just can't rush a hand-made item. Of course I, like usual, have been part of the problem. I choose to do the letters in Splendor which is a pliable silk and so now we have the arduous task of separating and re-combining the individual strands of silk. Nancy suggested that we use Planet Earth thread which is a one-ply thread so no stranding would be required. I love Planet Earth thread but I had selected the color that I wanted to use and well ... I am stubborn, what can I say.

So we persevered with the Splendor and it took a lot longer and it was more difficult than it had to be and now we are about to start on the purple letters and we are re-considering the whole stranded silk decision. But that is not my point. My point is that needlepoint takes time and that is all there is to it. And it is best not to rush. Needlepoint is meant to be relaxing and enjoyable. I often have to remind myself - and sometimes even my customers - of this fact. Rushing and stressing are antithetical to needlepoint. If you don't enjoy the process you are not going to enjoy the product. It's good lesson. You see, needlepoint can teach you stuff. Isn't that great?

Stitch of the Week: Hungarian

The Hungarian stitch was a big success. Everyone picked it up quickly and agreed that it was a useful and handsome stitch. It is one of the oldest needlepoint stitches.

The Hungarian stitch consists of three Gobelin stitches (straight up and down) over two horizontal canvas threads, then over four horizontal canvas threads, and finally over two horizontal canvas threads. The result is a diamond-shaped unit (pictured at left, top row). One row of canvas holes is skipped in between units. The long stitches of the second row of diamonds fit halfway up into the spaces left between units of the first row. Just remember -- the long stitches line up underneath the long stitches and the short stitches line up underneath the short stitches.

When the Hungarian stitch is worked in one color, the result is a brocade-like appearance. However, when multiple colors (either related or contrasting) are used the results can be very exciting and/or sophisticated. Other variations include working the stitch horizontally (bottom photo, left hand column) and/or doubling the stitch sequence (so that the pattern then becomes over two, over two, over four, over four, over two, over two, over two rows of empty holes, repeat). One can also add another step to the stitch so that the pattern then becomes: over two, over four, over six, over four, over two, skip a row of holes, repeat. This is called the Hungarian Diamond variation (upper photo, last row) and it is susceptible to snagging so it might not be the best choice for an area the needs to wear well.

Advantages to the Hungarian stitch include the ease with which the stitch can be learned and the speed with which it can be executed. It is a good choice for a background or large design area. It can also be used for paths, fields and clothing. It is an easy stitch and definitely one to have in your repertoire.