Thursday, March 26, 2009

Still pluggin' away

I am still working on the AVA charity pillow. As you can see I've made some progress. I can tell you though that never has fourteen inches seemed so far! The pillow looks good though. Nancy's idea of doing stripes in different stitches is proving to be a good one. I may have to re-name the pillow the "Stitch-of-the-Week" pillow since I have employed many of the same stitches. So far I've employed seventeen different stitches. The final total will probably be somewhere between 20 and 24.

My favorite stitches so far are: Triple Parisian, Diagonal Scotch and this long /short Gobelin pattern that was so easy but really effective. Some of stitches that I have used from the Stitch of the Week class include: Cashmere, Double Brick, Diamond Ray, Diagonal Mosaic, Horizontal Milanese, Hungarian and Knitting stitch.

I am hoping to get started on the the lettering Sunday. I've been working late into the night with the goal of finishing one section of stitches per day. Some days I am able to do so and other days not quite but I've definitely been consistent and relatively disciplined and that feels good. It will be good for me to actually finish a project for once. I've started so many and finished so few.

I plan to start basketweaving the letters in Splendor (silk) on Sunday and I am hoping to get the pillow to the finisher on April 1. Fingers crossed.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

News from the Shop

Lots of stuff happening at Rittenhouse Needlepoint this week. We've got two trunk shows in the shop right now. The first is from Needle Crossings which is a local painted canvas company. Pat Crosley, the owner of Needle Crossings, is based in Cape May, NJ. She does lots of canvases with local themes -- Victorian houses, beach scenes and Philadelphia images. Ms. Crosley's second great love is cats and so naturally she often features them in her canvases. Many of the Victorian house designs lend themselves to decorative stitches (a terrific aid to any such project would be June McKnight's Architectural Stitches for Needlepoint book). We've requested as many of Ms. Crosely's designs in 13 mesh as possible since this seems to be the preference of most of our customers.

We also have in the shop right now a trunk show from HP Designs featuring their fantastic line of lacquer boxes. We've got all shapes, sizes and colors to choose from. Frank Hyatt, the owner of HP Designs, sent over 120 boxes and more than 200 canvases most of which match beautifully with his boxes. They would make lovely gifts and/or fantastic additions to your own home (I've got my box w/ canvas selected but Russell says I have to wait and see if it sells before I can take it home!)

Frank's canvases feature lots of Asian and nature themes. He works primarily in 18 mesh which means that his designs are beautifully detailed and life-like.

If you haven't been in the shop recently -- stop by and check out all the new stuff!

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Stitch of the Week: Diamond Ray

The Diamond Ray is a great stitch and was well-received by the class. The stitch consists of five individual stitches that radiate out from a central point forming a diamond shape. The end result is a stitch that looks like a small leaf and can be used for backgrounds or larger design areas. It is a good stitch to use for shading and works well with over-dyed threads. Neon Rays also looks good when stitched in Diamond Ray.

The Diamond Ray stitch can also be used as a design element representing a small bush, Christmas tree or feathers. One disadvantage of the stitch is that it is slow to work up. It does however create an interesting all-over pattern/texture and it has a good backing.

One tip for when working the Diamond Ray stitch is to make sure that you always use a thread that is thin enough to show off the individual elements of the stitch. Another tip is to work the stitch from the bottom to the top though this means that you will be coming out of an occupied hole and headed into an empty hole. Still, stitching from bottom to top results in fewer errors for most people.

A very pretty variation that we explored in class necessitated working two horizontal rows of Diamond Ray stitches, one row facing upwards and the second row facing downward (all the stitches shared the same central hole). This resulted in a hole between each pair of Diamond Rays that we filled with an Upright Cross stitch in a contrasting color -- a sophisticated look that was not very difficult to achieve.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Compulsory Stitching

I want to talk about compulsory stitching today. No -- I am not talking about compulsive stitching -- the sort of stitching where you just can't stop because you are enjoying yourself so much. What I am referring to is the sort of stitching where you promised something to someone and it has to be done by a certain date and you don't like the colors or the threads or the motif and well ... you just have to do it.

I've been doing a lot of compulsory stitching lately and let me tell you it is not nearly as much fun as compulsive stitching. I promised the Academy of Vocal Arts a pillow for their gala on April 4th. Now I know it's my fault for promising a pillow in two months and I know that the pillow didn't have to be quite so large and I know also that the background color didn't have to be quite so beige and well ... really I am responsible for this whole fiasco BUT can't you just feel a little bit sorry for me anyway?

I know that you do because you have probably stitched lots of things that were painful, boring, endless and not for you also. I guess I really am just not a very selfless person when it comes to my needlepoint. I think of my stitching time as my "me" time and to just give away my "me" time is never a good idea. For me, stitching is still work (no matter how relaxing) and I need motivation in the form of a desirable end result.

Not that this pillow that I am stitching for AVA isn't a nice one. It is. I was going to do the background in double stitch (one regular cross stitch alternating with an oblong cross stitch) using beige wool. However, I quickly realized that it was taking way too long. Nancy suggested that I do stripes of different stitches and so that is what I am doing. Every ten rows or so I change the stitch that I am using. Mostly I have kept to stitches that are quick and easy and I have tried to alternate stitches that have an up-and-down feel with stitches that have a more diagonal orientation. The letters will be done in basketweave using blue and purple Splendor silk. I am hoping that the end result will be subtle yet sophisticated (just like me -- ha!).

So, I have not had much time for my own work -- the koi project is on the back burner, as is the dog collar, Dena's boathouse row, and the numerous other things that are "in process." The worst part of all this compulsory stitching is that I've promised another pillow to the Opera Company of Philadelphia for their gala in May. Ugh! When will I ever learn?

Anyway, I hope you are enjoying your stitching and take a tip from me -- try to keep it more compulsive than compulsory!

Friday, March 13, 2009

News from the Store

Lots of stuff going on here at Rittenhouse Needlepoint. The Julie Pischke trunk show will be leaving soon (Monday). It's been nice to have it here -- such fun colors and so spring-like. Stop by the store over the weekend to check out her line and make your last minute purchases!

Coming next week we have a trunk show from Needle Crossings. This is a local company (Cape May, NJ) that features many locally-themed canvases as well as beach-themes, lighthouses, cats and Victorian buildings. Lots of great stuff and a wonderful local company.

Russell and Nancy are busy putting together the frog class. We've got lots of people signed up already but there is room for more so if you are interested in participating in this froganza contact us and we will add your name to the list. More info forthcoming.

We've received some wonderful, gorgeous new lacquer boxes from HP Designs. Shortly we will be receiving even more (Russell says as many as fifty will be here at once!) I am afraid that I am going to have to insist that everybody buy at least one of these boxes -- they are so special. The colors are rich and deep and his canvases coordinate perfectly. They are not cheap but oh what a gift for someone (or yourself).

We've also received a big shipment of new threads from Rainbow Gallery. We are hoping to process the threads today (Friday) and to offer them for sale starting this weekend (an ambitious plan). I am calling these threads Nancy's Favorites because they were purchased mostly on her recommendation. There is some great stuff -- alpaca, cashmere, linen, fuzzy stuff and more. The addition of these threads will greatly expand the creative possibilities for your stitching. Stop by the store and let us show them all to you. Or for those of you out-of-town be patient we will be offering them for sale online soon.

That about does it for news from the store. Oh, I almost forgot. LuLu is going to a new groomer now and she looks tres magnifique!

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Needlepoint Borders

We had a class last night on needlepoint borders and I thought I would share some of the information with you while it is still fresh in my mind. I discovered while doing research on needlepoint borders that there is not really a whole lot of information on the subject out there in cyberspace so let's hope this brief entry helps to start the ball rolling.

I focused the class' attention last night on easy-to-do, no-count (or very little counting required) borders. Our first example was just an elongated continental stitch. When this stitch is done over two, three or more canvas intersections using a cord-type thread (such as perle cotton or Kreinik braid) it appears as a rope. It is most attractive and very simple and in a contrasting or complementary color it could serve as a fine border either all the way around a piece or as a dividing line between sections of a piece.

One thing that we talked about was the fact that we often think of borders as the stitches that surround an entire canvas but of course there can be borders within a canvas as well. Borders can also be accomplished in tent stitch using a variety of colors and a repeated decorative pattern (that is they do not have to be decorative stitches). The decorative stitches employed in a border need not be complicated either. A border can be built by grouping simple elements such as the one border that we did in class that consisted of satin stitches with a row of continental above and below in a contrasting color. Again, simple but effective.

Borders don't have to be difficult. We also explored using Scotch stitches but alternating their direction. We did this using Neon Rays and the light reflected off of the Scotch stitches differently and created an interesting effect (this is especially nice when done in gold).

Borders are a useful device for focusing a viewer's attention. They can give a sense of completeness to a design, make a painted canvas more your own and in the best cases they enhance a design. If you haven't yet incorporated a border into a needlework project, give one a try. Keep in mind however that once the piece is finished one usually looses a row or two of stitches on the outside edge of the project so it might be a wise idea to stitch a couple of rows of basketweave beyond your border thus ensuring that your border will be fully viewable.

Some stitches to consider using in a border are: Slanted Gobelin, Jacquard, Long-Armed Cross, Rice, Leaf and Algerian Eye. The Rice stitch is a particularly attractive stitch that we did in the class using metallic thread for the tie-down portion. I love the way this looks but was shocked when I compared it to an earlier version I have done of the Rice stitch using a black Kreinik braid and silver floss. They look totally different which just goes to show that you need to practice whatever it is that you plan on using for your border to make sure that it has the look that you were going for.

Forethought when it comes to borders is an excellent idea. It can save you a lot of headaches. Counting the number of threads available to you both horizontally and vertically and then choosing a stitch that divides evenly into those numbers will save you a lot of headaches. Sometimes of course it is not possible to find a stitch that divides evenly into the number of canvas threads available. In these cases you can explore using a medallion on the four corners that will fill in and provide you with the number of canvas threads that you desire both on the top/bottom and on the sides.

One easy medallion that we explored was comprised of four mosaic stitches, the upper right mosaic stitch slanted up and to the left, the upper left mosaic stitch slanted up and to the right. The direction in which the stitches slanted were alternated in the bottom row and the finished look is illustrated above. Again, a simple but effective and useful stitch.

The last thing that we explored in class was how to miter a corner employing Gobelin stitches. This is a simple matter of stepping back the stitch one thread at a time, turning the canvas 90 degrees and then stepping the stitch up one canvas thread until it is the original size once again. The finished result is like magic. Be sure to add a fill-in continental stitch in the corner to give it a full and complete look and voila -- you've turned a corner in a very professional way. And you thought you couldn't do it!

Before I go I just want to acknowledge June McKnight for her book on Needlepoint Borders. It was the inspiration for the class and the second example of the Rice stitch came from a sampler that I did of stitches from her excellent spiral-bound, index card sized book. I highly recommend it.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Stitch of the Week : Smyrna Cross

Last week's Stitch of the Week class featured the Smyrna Cross. This basic stitch is also known as the Double Cross. Essentially it consists of a "regular" cross stitch (i.e., an "X") with an upright cross (or "+" symbol) on top.
The stitch can be worked over two or four threads and our group was struck by how differently the stitch appears when it is done in the larger vs.the smaller version. Over two threads, the Smyrna Cross appears basically as a plain bump. It is too small for one to notice the individual thread elements of the stitch. The larger version allows the individual stitch elements to appear. However, some in the group were disturbed by the open canvas areas.

The Smyrna Cross is an incredibly useful stitch. It can be used for architectural details on houses and buildings such as molding or corbels. It can also be used for buttons, stars or anywhere a bumpy texture is desired.

As the Smyrna Cross is a stitch that a lot of people are familiar with and a stitch that is relatively easy to learn, I decided to devote the majority of the class time to exploring numerous variations. We tried working the "X" portion of the stitch in one color and the "+" portion of the stitch in another color. We also tried alternating which stitch was on top, first the "X" then the "+" and in the next row we alternated placing the "+" stitch below the "X" stitches and vice versa. The group concluded that this was not worth the effort unless one decided to also alternate the colors thus making the finished effect more noticeable. An example (albeit small) of this stitch is on the upper sampler, last item on the left hand side.

Another variation that we tried was the Elongated Smyrna Cross. This has the appearance to my eye of a sheaf of wheat gathered at the center (most attractive). Another attractive variation that would be useful for mimicking cobblestones is the staggered Smyrna Cross. This is done by leaving space between Smyrna Crosses and filling in the spaces with the second row one half step below the first row. This creates a pleasant pattern somewhere between random and geometric.

The Horizontal Elongated Smyrna Cross makes a very brick-like finished product as does the Long Arm Smyrna Cross. In the Long Arm Smyrna Cross, two Smyrna Crosses are done side-by-side. In the first Smyrna Cross, the final horizontal portion of the "+" sign is omitted and on the second Smyrna Cross the horizontal portion of the "+" sign covers both units. This makes for a pleasant effect and is illustrated on the blue sampler (second row from left, bottom item).
The Smyrna Cross is a great stitch with lots of uses and don't think that you know all there is to know about it. In needlepoint, there is always something new to learn.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Things R Heatin' Up at Rittenhouse Needlepoint

Hello Everyone! Just a quick note to let you know that despite the cold temps outside spring is in the air here at Rittenhouse Needlepoint. The Julie Pischke trunk show arrived late last week and we've processed it all and put it on the floor. It's just the right pick me up for early March. Lots of bright colors, tropical flowers and bold designs. It's a lot of fun and if you haven't been by the shop to see, don't wait because it's only going to be here for three weeks (until March 20th?).

Julie also features a lot of designs on larger mesh canvases which means easier on the eyes and quicker to finish! We have a lot of finished samples also so that you can really get the idea of how nice her stuff finishes up.

If you are ever in Key West, Florida you should check her shop out. It's called Island Needlework and it is located at 527 Fleming Street.

In the meanwhile, come downtown -- check out the Flower Show and then stop in for another kind of flower show here at the shop.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Snowy Day at Rittenhouse Needlepoint

Here are some pics from the store this morning. Brrrr cold. Snow is falling sideways down 18th Street as I write to you. Should be a quiet day which is fine since I've got loads to do. Hope you are home -- safe and sound. S

The Art (& Fun) of the Stitch Guide

We were asked last weekend to come up with a stitch guide for the canvas at left. It was the first such request that we have received and I was glad for it as creating a custom stitch guide is perhaps the most fun one can have in a needlepoint shop with your clothes on!

Matching stitch to fiber to project in such a way as to enhance the original design and challenge but not overwhelm the stitcher is an art. What do I mean when I say that? Well, just that it takes skill, knowledge and finesse. No two will be the same. My suggestions will differ from Nancy's and both of our suggestions will vary depending upon the individual requesting the guide. The end result? Hopefully a uniquely beautiful piece of craftsmanship that will last and be appreciated for generations.

There are of course tools that one can use when developing a stitch guide. An extensive library of needlepoint-related books is absolutely necessary. Some needlepoint books have suggestions for how a particular stitch can be used. One series, the "Stitches for Effect" books, even include what they call the "effect index" which refers one to particular stitches when in search of certain effects (such as clouds, sky, water, etc.) The suggestions are not, like most suggestions, all to my liking but it's a place to start.

Another place to start is a picture book or a guide to needlepoint stitches that includes illustrations of the finished stitches. This is helpful in identifying stitches that have the look that you are hoping to achieve. Again, the stitches may or may not be appropriate (some may be too difficult, require a lot of compensation or a different type of fiber, etc.) but again it is a place to start.

At Rittenhouse Needlepoint we are building a library of needlepoint stitches as a byproduct of our Stitch of the Week class. Swatches from each week's stitch are available along with notes and a handout relating to the stitch. We've just started our second volume but eventually the library is likely to be quite extensive. For now, we keep the binders behind the checkout counter so if you would like to take a peek just ask we would be happy to show it to you.

Of course, the greatest resource for developing a stitch guide is experience -- long, hard-won experience. This takes time though I suspect that you probably already know more than you think you do and take heart too in the knowledge that not every canvas is suitable for decorative stitching and that in even the most complex of canvases basketweave is always a welcome respite.

PS -- Sorry about the first photo appearing sideways -- I tried to "fix" it (meaning I tried to get it to appear as it does in the original photo that I uploaded). However, every time I upload it, the blogger software insists on turning it on its side -- very frustrating. I tried to fix it for you but you know life is short and the day is young and blah blah blah -- you get the idea. S.