Thursday, September 12, 2019

This is war, not a garden party!

Let me begin by apologizing for being away, dear readers and stitchers, for so long. Now I probably have no reason to complain. I mean I’m not going through the level of setbacks like Scarlet and Melanie, but sometimes LIFE HAPPENS and this is one of those years where life just keeps throwing things our way. I would complain except I have good friends who have encountered so much worse lately so I will count my blessings and keep my (often big) mouth shut because unlike Aunt Pittypat, I know what’s important. And I think that’s why she is a character I’m so ambivalent about, because she gets wrapped up in “the stuff”... you know the type, they’re all about faux drama. A catastrophic and as I get older I have no time or patience for that kind of nonsense. Don’t get me wrong, I have a healthy respect for etiquette, rules and all that, but to a point. I think Doctor Meade summed it up perfectly when during the taking of Atlanta he tells Aunt Pittypat “Good heavens, woman, this is war, not a garden party!”

After a break from a project for a while, I find the best way to get back into it is to start with something relatively obvious—or obvious to me anyways. The smelling salts bottle is so iconic to Aunt Pittypat... it deserves some bling. At first, I was thinking wonder ribbon but I’m saving that for another area. And I already used Water and Ice for the glass windows so the next obvious thing (to me) to do would be mass beading. I took a class a few years ago and they had us use 2 strands of Accentuate changing the bead thread color to mass bead with clear beads. I’m sure the technique has its merits but after five minutes both myself and my friend I attended with were already highly annoyed...Accentuate stretches and shreds... no thank you! I also recently took a (different) class and that teacher felt strongly about using specialized beading thread to match the bead color. I bead fairly often, a lot of times on a whim so that would require a whole other type of thread I would need to keep on hand which for me just isn’t practical. In the end, I used what I always use for beading, The Collection’s clear beading thread along with their 11/0 crystal (clear) beads. Their beading thread is so versatile and it doesn’t stretch or beak and it is really really strong. Their beads are always perfect. Never any uneven hole sizes, chips or burs. Mill Hill beads are also nice but hard to come by around here. I just love the even look of brick beading in mass. The beads always look so orderly (out pops that OCD again). For the ridge at the top of the bottle, I came up at one edge, fed four beads on my needle all at once and went back down at the other end, I then went back and made a stitch between each beads over one canvas thread and that helped them stand up straight and kept them from bouncing around. For the top knob, I attached a single The Collection sequin in DM4-14 with the same clear bead. In case you aren’t familiar, i did this by coming up in the middle of the round knob, through the sequin, through the bead and then back through the sequin and canvas. There were a few canvas threads that were left uncovered near the knob so I went back in with the purple thread used on the sleeve to cover them up. 

As you may recall, there was a bit of white showing through on the edge of the sleeve. Originally my thought was to attach more lace but now that feels like gilding the lily. Thankfully it’s a woman’s prerogative to change her mind because I decided to stitch a wrapped back stitch using four strands of Splendor in S803 which is not a stark white but I like it. If you aren't familiar with this technique, you should be because it really comes in handy. All-things-needlework guru, Mary Corbet, created a great tutorial on it which you can see HERE. I highly recommend you check it out, as well as other tutorials on her site.

Since Aunt Pittypat’s hair will be dimensional, I won’t be able to do that until towards the end (and by “I” I mean Fidelis who recently taught a fabulous beards and hair class), so all that’s left is her skin. For the shadowed areas, I used Baked Alaska by Planet Earth, the darker shadow of her chin and around the outside were stitched using Splendor S1131 from the Bronze Porcelains card. For the areas of the lightest highlights, I used Splendor S1063 and for the bulk of skin, Splendor S1083 also from the Bronze card. Her cheeks were stitched in S816 from the Santa’s Rosy Cheeks card. All of these were stitched with three strands which is the usual amount I use on an 18 count canvas.

All that is left now is Aunt Pittypat’s features, but something about how these lips are painted bother me. The smile as painted reminds me of a demonic clown (ask my brother, he will tell you, even as a kid, clowns freak me out — they do him too and he had to carry a gun for work!)... not quite the look I’m going for in a frilly maiden lady so I’m going to make a few subtle changes. First of all, I want a color that compliments her purple dress but not so bright she’ll be confused with Belle Watkins, so I went with a pretty Merlot color of Neon Rays N120. But I have to do something about the shape of those I’m going to make some tweaks. I found the bow of the mouth which luckily is clearly painted, that will be my center. From there I stitched diagonally over two on each side in opposite directions. Then underneath, two straight stitches over one canvas thread in the middle and one diagonal stitch going in the opposite direction on either side to create the bottom lip. If my description has left you confused, which I can’t say I’d blame you, I created this rudimentary drawing to help clarify.  

You might be concerned that there is still some naked canvas where the lips were painted, no need, I just covered them up with the skin color thread. This is an excellent example of why I often prefer working with stranded threads. I know, I know, people don’t want to be bothered... it’s an extra step, I get it, but because I’m covering up a dark color with a light color, I was able to add an extra strand (so four instead of my usual three) and with that no one would never know I reshaped the lips. There are often times I’ve seen nice painted canvases except the facial features are slightly “off”. As long as there is enough room (meaning the head is not too small to make changes), give these a second look and ponder before you buy, sometimes a face can be saved with a few creative tweaks. Like with makeup (or Botox!), don’t be afraid to experiment to create the face you want. 

Since I am not sure what thread we are going to use for her hair, I am skipping the eyebrows for now so all that is left on the face are the eyes which I think really requires a metallic. I’m going to go on record as saying I highly prefer Kreinik metallics to other brands. They don’t kink and I am particularly partial to their vintage line. If it curls when you take it off the spool a light stretch will usually straighten it out. You don’t want it to pop though, stretch slowly and carefully. But nothing’s ever perfect and the only thing I find inconvenient about this brand is the little round labels with the thread size and color number are constantly  falling off! First world problems I know, but it comes into play and you’ll here how... So I can tell you I used a #12 braid Kreinik color 005 - black. And I know that I used a #8 braid color 100 (a white subtle sparkle). But for the blue, I am outta luck because the label is gone like the wind (pun intended, I just couldn’t resist)!  I know it is a #8 Kreinik but I don’t know the exact color. From what I can tell from looking at Kreinik’s website, I think it was color number 684-Aquamarine but I can’t be positive. Anyone who’s ever tried to match a thread using any kind of screen knows how problematic that can be. Mine was a nice aqua/turquoise with a little green twisted in. I like this color because it makes her eyes almost hazel which would look pretty with the purple dress. 

So there we have it. Aunt Pittypat, although bald at the moment, is done for now. Now I get to move on to Ms. Melanie, and I can explain why the older I get, the more I understand what all the fuss is about. 

Until then, keep calm, stitch don’t need silly smelling salts because you got this!

Monday, May 13, 2019

Oh dear where are my smelling salts? I think I shall faint!

Many stories have a character similar to Aunt Pittypat Hamilton. Someone who grounds the story in the past. Not unlike the Dowager Countess in Downton Abbey, she values etiquette very highly. Unlike today, asking “what will people think?” seems is a very relevant point, but unlike the Dowager, she doesn’t have those snappy quick one liners. She does serve her purpose though, she’s setting the scenes of the expectations of society of the time.

In this day and age, I think we’re just used to stronger women. Scarlett is obviously pointedly portrayed as the strongest female character and even in her own quiet way, as is Melanie to a degree, but Aunt Pittypat is just SO delicate (eye roll). And I think thereon lies my ambivalence, I think. On the one hand, as the childless aunt, I get it, a lady needs some help every once in a while but as a modern woman, I was raised to be strong and highly capable. How I long for the days when these roles were much more clearly defined and expectations of society were more clear. But the thing is, she over does it— always pulling out those smelling salts so she doesn’t faint, which actually we now know was often due to either a too-tight corset or being too warm from so many layers of clothing in the heat of the deep south. This is especially so of Aunt Pittypat who is often seen with a shawl and all trussed-up like a thanksgiving turkey, often covered all the way up to her neck— a few things we need to keep in mind when we’re making stitch choices. 

Sometimes designers paint canvases in such a way that it’s difficult to use the particular specialty stitch you want. This was the case with the diamonds across the bust of Ms. Pittypat’s dress. The diamonds are painted at an angle and they’re different sizes. I’m assume this was done to show perspective, so I quickly decided that to stitch right over the painted pattern to create my own grid was probably the easiest way to go. I stitched a Double Hungarian in four strands of Planet Earth Port V 1172 which is an overdyed thread. And notice I’m stitching right over her collar too, we’ll bring that back later, I promise. I then used two strands of DMC 550 to outline the diamonds in a zig-zag pattern and three strands to stitch Nobuko for the solid dark area that look like straps and her empire waist. I flipped the stitch direction of the Nobuko to suit the angles appropriately and stitched basketweave for the verticals empire waistline. I don’t use basketweave/tent, but I always incorporate a bit into every canvas as it gives the eye a place to rest, you can’t have everything be the highlight. Then I stitched Serendipity stitch using the overdyed Planet Earth thread for the area under the waistline, which I think of as her tummy and top of her skirt.

I originally was going to applique purple ribbon for the dark purple/strap-like areas and waistline but it just didn’t look right... it looked too much like suspenders. Just goes to show you, what you think is a given might not always work. And honestly Nobuko is one of my favorite stitches. My students often say think I believe that no canvas is complete without a bit of Nobuko, and they’re probably right because it’s a very versatile stitch. I think I said it before and at the risk of repeating myself, the classics are just that for a reason— because they WORK! 

And speaking of classics, we’re using T stitch (aka alternating basketweave) for the sleeve. This is one of those areas you often encounter where the painting is vague,  where does the shoulder end and the sleeve begin? I have found the best way to treat those kinds of area is use a stitch that doesn’t call attention and let the area just kind of blend in. 

You know what I do want to feature though?  Those dots down either side of her bodice. I don’t know what they are and you can only get an idea that something’s there in our inspiration photo, so I decided sequins would be a good look and I attached them using clear thin quilting thread. It’s a bit of a bear to work with but you can hardly tell they’re attached so it’s worth the aggravation. 

Back to Aunt Pittypat’s trussed-up-ness... we need to do something fabulous with that collar, so I got my hands on a bit of scalloped 1/4 inch doll lace. When you are on your travels and you see bits of lace or trim, or doll buttons, just pick them up for your stash. If your LNS (local needlework shop) doesn’t have what you need, Etsy is also a good way to go. Using the same thin clear quilting thread, I attached the lace using tiny stitches putting subtle little folds as I go which is what will make this lace stand up a bit off the piece and really give dimension. You can obviously attach lace flat but that’s not the look we wanted this time. I did bury the ends of the lace using the loop method that I talked about in my Last Post and I whip-stitched the lace to the back using the same clear thread but you could use one of the purples threads as well. I am pretty pleased with how it came out, if i do say so myself. It is always fascinating to me how it doesn't take much of a little something extra to bring a piece to life.

In our next episode we’ll stitch Aunt Pittypat’s skin, her smelling salts bottle, finish off that sleeve (you didn't think I would leave it that way, did you?) and perhaps talk about her hair. Fidelis is a master with hair techniques but since I know we want dimension, we‘ll probably have to save that to the bitter end...I hate it when I have to be patient! But more to come in our next installment, so stay tuned. And if you haven’t subscribed, please consider doing so and don’t forget to click the link in the email you're receive to verify your subscription (if you don't receive it, please check your junk/spam). And follow Miss Pittypat’s example and spread the word about this blog to your stitching friends.

Monday, January 28, 2019

Curtain call!

In my last post we stitched Tara and talked about that special place on earth that we call home. Like Gerald O’Hara tells Scarlett in one of the early scenes “Land is the only thing in the world worth working for, worth fighting for, because it’s the only thing that lasts”.  If you’re familiar with this movie though, you know what isn’t going to last... those curtains, because in a moment not so unlike the one in “The Sound of Music”, Scarlet has Mamie pull down those drapes to make her an impressive new frock, and she hasn’t had one of those in a very long time. BY the way, Gone with the Wind (the movie) was released in 1939 and Sound of Music in 1965 but the real Maria von Trapp became the von Trapp nanny in and around 1926 but the GWTW book was published in 1936, before The Sound of Music was a movie, just proves that old adage, there’s no such thing as an original idea!  But back to those curtains, they’re the sacrificial lamb because she’s gotta catch herself a man who has a good amount of money and those are difficult to come by even in a less dire economy never mind in times of war! The drapes scene is so iconic that The Carol Burnett Show even did a popular spoof on it. Many of you have probably seen it, I’m sure, but if you’re one of our younger stitchers you may not have and I would be remiss if I didn’t include a link so you could revel in this comic genius:

A little trivia told to me by the designer of this canvas, JP Sligh of Labors of Love, if you look closely at Scarlett’s hat that makes up the curtain outfit, it’s been adorned with chicken feet! Can you imagine? We’ll just sparkle our-self up some chicken feet and put them on a hat! I mean you know things are desperate when you are resorting to tricks like that! But an “A+” for originality! You have to use what you’ve got and ingenuity NEVER goes out of style. I was recently telling a good friend, I actually find I am more creative with less options... if you give me every thread in the store, I can’t decide but give me 2 choices and somehow I’m going to “make it work” (in the words of the pinochle of taste and style, Mr. Tim Gund).

So my initial idea was to use green Rainbow Gallery’s Very Velvet but they looked heavy and foreboding. I wanted something that looked fine and expensive (and I have never understood velvet drapes in Georgia to be honest). My LNS still has a stash of Anchor’s Marlitt which I have used for some of the characters’ lips so far. I confess this isn’t one of my favorite threads but these colors  (1031 and 1033) were spot on perfect, so I’m going with it. I’ll be using 4 strands using a vertical brick variation over three. It has an empty space in the middle of each row to show the painting of the canvas that also adds extra shading which I especially like (with no extra work!). And it keeps the drapes from looking too heavy. Word to the wise, Marlitt has been discontinued, so I needed to be certain I would have enough of it. We have all seen the posts on Needlepoint Nation’s Facebook page or had a stitching friend run out of something they now can’t get or the dye-lot has significantly changed. It’s one of a stitcher’s worst nightmares so if you are going to push that envelope and use something discontinued or limited, err on the side of caution and be absolutely certain you have enough! I encourage over buying if that’s what it takes-built in stash enhancement if you will. 

You will notice that I stitched right over Melanie’s veil. I did this when it was over Ashley’s jacket as well... all will be revealed in time, I promise. Any time you over something like this up, take a picture before you stitch it for future reference! 

Now what to do with that fringe? Bullion knots were an option, but I already did a mass of bullions for Bonnie’s hair. Plus, I like to mix techniques within a canvas and I wanted something really different bordering on over the top.... it may be background but it doesn’t mean it can’t shine. It’s always a fine line, you don’t want your background to overtake the design.  B.F. Goodstitch had a trunk show last year of Painter’s Thread and I knew they did great overdyed threads in these glorious colors with sparkle running through them, but I didn’t know about their embellishment trims. I highly recommend you check out their website because you want to be aware of what they have so you will recognize opportunities when they arise. The minute I saw their Klimt Gold Single Loop trim, I knew I had to get it because it’s perfect for our curtains!  And it has slight variations to the dying which I think really adds to it.

This is a thread you couch (aka sew onto the fabric, if you’re a newbie) because it’s very wide. This isn’t wide enough to totally cover the area that is painted for the fringe, so I decided to really gild (get it) the lily and attach two rows, and in one spot three rows of trim after I basket weaved it with Splendor S1012 and S1011 to make sure the canvas was completely covered. Again I reached for my favorite clear beading thread by The Collection to couch (that thread is such a workhorse, so many uses). Also, there is a right side to this particular trim so maybe sure you are attaching the correct side up. You do have to plunge the trim at the beginnings and the ends of each length, otherwise it will unravel- not a good look. But there’s no way we can put this into a needle, so now what? Enter the “loop method”. My main squeeze always says it sounds like a form of birth control (someone get Ms. Pittypatt’s smelling salts—how scandalous!), but it really is such a versatile trick to have in your arsenal. You take any non-strandable thread about six inches long, double it and thread your needle. Using a tapered laying tool or a stiletto, use it to stretch the hole where you want to plunge. Now plunge your needle through the stretched hole, leaving about an inch of the loop on top. Now take about 1/4 of an inch of trim and catch it into the loop and now continue to pull the needle through the hole. Sometimes you to wiggle it a little. Your trim is now on the back, so you can fold the trim  over and neatly whip stitch it to the back while trying to avoid too much bulk.

Ever have a thread too short to bury? Use the loop method in a similar way only burying under existing stitches. This also works if you have a mistake that is isolated, cut just the bad stitch, unpick a few stitches and use the loop method to bury both ends, you can then go back to fill the stitches back in. 

The last aspect of our curtains is the roping and tassel— we stitched over the painted tassel with the white siding of Tara, so it’s time to put it back. And I just so happen to be “partnering” with Fidelis Fenno who has an extra special flare for tassel making. Fidelis grew up going to the Royal School in London and has been teaching tassels here in the States for years. So I (finally) drafted her for assistance. Look at the amazing tiny roping! She made it the same way as you would any twisted cord and the most adorable teeny tiny tassel. I’m not going to go into how she did it because most of us have all made twisted cord and tassels with a piece of cardboard in our childhood. This is fussy work but Fidelis is the MASTER who makes it sound easy. Fidelis advises that you play with how many strands of thread to use because you don’t want it too thin or too chunky, you need to keep the scale in mind, which brings me to another point, we all know Scarlett didn’t make that curtain frock, Mamie did, so don’t be afraid to enlist assistance ... if you have a friend talented at a particular skill/technique, ask for help or a lesson. Stitching is usually a solitary hobby but it’s even more fun when you collaborate (which is why I enjoy teaching needlepoint so much)! Your local needlework shops are a great place for that too. We still have a lot to do on our canvas and I’m afraid the tassel is going to get battered if I attach it now, so I’m going to wait and plunge and attach it towards the end of our project.

And with that our curtains (and Tara for that matter) are complete.

The question now is what to tackle next? I have some wonderful things planned for Melanie but Miss Pittypat has some fun elements too.... who doesn’t love options! While I ponder and scheme my next move, I wish you a very happy new year full of all the thing you love and marvelous stitching.