Friday, 4 August 2017

THE UNIVERSAL PROBLEM

I believe that the vast majority of needle pointers have an ever growing stash of threads; at least that is what I am told by all my students. Sometimes it is small quantities left over from a project, sometimes it is a thread that inspired them to buy it but they have never found a place to use it.

For this reason I have designed a number of projects where these threads can be used to great advantage.  Just the other day one of my students told me that she was working the painted rug, The Scented Garden (34 x 46 inches) without buying a single thread.

One point I should make is the background, on a large project such as this it is important to have sufficient thread of the same dye lot to complete the work – this stitcher has calculated that she does have sufficient.

So, what are the other projects that lend themselves to this halo burnishing exercise? 

There are really small projects such as spec cases, one kit we do is Kaleidoscope. Lots have been made as good traveling/holiday projects and I myself have made three, one narrow one in muted colours for my fine stitching glasses.  Another, again on 18 mesh, for my everyday use and yet a third, larger on 14 mesh in bright colours for sun glasses.   Shown here is a group with the central one in purples, pinks and yellow – cotton threads I was tempted by in Guatemala but when home couldn’t think of a single thing to do with them!

Pincushions, needle cases, Kindle covers and iPads are also good projects to use up threads – do measure Kindles and iPads as they can vary from model to model.

Other designs have good selections of textured stitches, fun to work and besides all else form a good record of new stitches. Stitch Fantasy is a small panel that has more than 25 different stitches diagrammed and can be ordered on either 14 or 18 mesh canvas. I recommend taking the 14 mesh if you plan working it in wools and 18 mesh for floss and silks. 

All these designs are suitable for those of you who haven’t done much needlepoint or simply wish for a straight forward stitching experience. 

The ‘vide poche’ empty your pockets has around 20 or more patterns diagrammed for the Border and, being small areas, truly small quantities of thread can be used. The origin of this item was for gentlemen to empty their pockets of any coins before they retired for the night – however it is also a useful item by the entrance door for safe keeping of keys – never to be mislaid again!   One lady I know is planning a pretty scheme to keep her jewellery over night!

The two hand-painted canvases the Rhino (inspired by a Durer woodcut 1515) and the Elephant, (Indian of about the same period) both have threads for the animal but leave the individual to use their own threads to follow the Border instructions where all the patterns are explained and diagrammed fully.

Three words of warning – all threads are perfect, crewel wools, floss, perle and over dyes but NOT tapestry wools especially if following my stitch plans

Second, should you take one of the kits that come complete with threads but you wish to work it in your own scheme try and substitute wool for wool, floss for floss etc to get the same effect..
Third, already mentioned, for a large area of one colour, do check you have sufficient to complete it from one dye lot.   In this instance it may be worth buying a fresh lot of the right quantity!
I hope this has given you some idea to cope with this universal problem, do let me know of any ideas you have for reducing your own stash!


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Monday, 12 June 2017

Our Italian Adventure 2017

Our trip to Tuscany was fabulous, just as much fun stitching as our previous visit and interest in wonderful places that they had organised for us to go.
However, before I tell you, and hopefully tempt you to join us next year (we are working on dates around the end of April 2018) I must refer back to my last blog with tips for travel and mention some important items I forgot –
When taking a floor frame (the Lowery is my favourite) do take the Allen key to help re-assemble it on arrival.   Before leaving home it is also a good moment to put a little Vaseline on all the screws; (this is recommended and makes swivelling to get to the back for finishing off much easier)
When taking any magnification be sure to have some cover for the lens.  Some models have a ‘bag’ or metal disc but these strong magnifiers can easily cause a fire – even for short periods like a quick lunch!
So, I do hope you found all these tips useful and I am sure that you have some of your own – please do share them with us, I should love to hear from you and pass them on, with your permission, in a future blog.

So back to our trip, we went by Ryanair to Perugia (pickup is included both from the airport there or the railway station at Arezzo (excellent trains to destinations like Rome and Florence).    It was an early start but means having a wonderful lunch in a very special restaurant in the forest – one of those places one would never find by oneself and a true Italian experience!  

Then on to Borghetto Calcinaia to unpack, unwind and catch up with Gilly & Dennis’s news, even a swim for relaxation in the heated pool and generally enjoy the amenities and spectacular views.
All food is locally sourced and delicious, breakfast, lunch and dinner with wine is included.  So next morning, after a lovely breakfast (Gilly’s granola is fab.) we started the stitching.
The project we worked on was the del Robbia Fruit Wreath; last year we did another Wreath panel with the Paschal Lamb in the centre and another wreath to coordinate and possibly make a pair was voted for.   This Fruit wreath had clusters of lemons and the Arms of Arezzo in the centre.    Similar to the first one Shadow stitching was used.
If you are not familiar with shadow stitching it allows the painted design to show through and gives both a soft gentle look and takes less stitching time that the traditional basket weave.

While this type of stitching it is comparatively new to me, some years ago I designed a series called ‘Patchwork’.  Here the canvas was painted in a patchwork fashion of colours and then stitched over with lacy stitches allowing the paint work to show through.   One had a beautiful Iris painted, another allowed the stitcher to have their initial.

Within the Fruit Wreath design, each student choose to do the complete design as the original or use elements to suit their desires.  One left the whole of the centre free to take a mirror, another replaced the Arezzo coat of arms with her own shield! and yet another stitched only the Arezzo Castle with a dramatic border.    Everyone working on a similar theme makes for a useful exchange of ideas which I find so rewarding.  I shall hope to share some of these variations when finished.
Besides stitching – no hardship sitting under a vine covered patio – we were also there to visit some of the Tuscan treasures, medieval hill top villages, interesting museums and art collections, churches with important art work and of course a little shopping!  Sadly we did find our rate of exchange (both dollars and sterling) not contusive to many purchases.   

This time we revisited Anghiari. The village famous for the Battle in 1440 and the painting by Leonardo da Vinci slightly later (1505) to commemorate it.   This painting has been lost although some believe that it is ‘under’ a fresco in Florence.   Arranged for us was a private visit to the famous Busatti Linen factory (web site Busatti.com/en if you would like a peep at their range) and a leisurely walk up and down the narrow streets with countless photo opportunities. 
On another day we went to Sansepolcro the birth place of Pietro Della Francesco and home to one of my favourite museums, the Aboca Herb museum (abocamuseum.it/en) but should you visit be sure to pick up the guide book.    That evening we had  a great dinner in one of Dennis’s favourite restaurants Il Dongione in the nearby village of San Giustino. 

Both Gilly and Dennis are already working on some alternative visits for us next time, there are so many great places to visit we only have to return to firm favourites from the previous visit.

I do hope I have given you some idea of a stitching retreat such as this;  I keep it small, friendly, almost entirely price inclusive and a great solution for people who wish to travel, stress free, with a likeminded group.

A full fact sheet (being prepared as we speak) with some great early bird offers) will be shortly available and I should be happy to send it to you

Finally if you can’t wait till next April, we do have a trip to Calabria in Southern Italy this September for which again I should be happy to send details.
 

 

 

 

 

 

Friday, 3 March 2017

A long held dream

January and February are miserable months in England; all the excitement is over, all the rushing around should be done and I hate the cold, damp, grey days.

So for a long time I have always hoped to spend at least a month somewhere warm, with sun, swimming and of course stitching and this year, for the first time we managed it and had a great month in Tortola, the British Virgin Islands (the BVIs)
However I have always stressed the importance of planning well in advance for any trip but for a whole month it is even more important.
Unfortunately planning seemed to go array this time, both my and my daughter’s birthdays to celebrate in December, Christmas and New Year and to finish off a rather nasty chesty cold that laid me low and lingered well into the holiday
So, while it is still fresh in my mind I have made this list of needlepoint tools that I took and found really helpful that I managed to throw into my suitcase.
First of all my design(s) to work on;  originally I planned to take the project destined for our trip to Tuscany later in May however the painted canvas got lost in transit from the States and didn’t arrive in time.   As it was to be a companion piece to that which we did last year selection of threads was already done so I was doubly disappointed that project was out of the question.

However with only a few days to decide on a piece that I could take I finished up with LOVE.   I managed to start a small area to select threads and took more quantities that I thought were needed – wrong again as I ran out of the white stranded cotton and had to finish the last letter back at home!   Here is the finished design that will be available early April.   
While stitching it I realised that it would be a lovely design with other names using letters from another of our charts, let us know if you would like a set.     4 letter names as ANNA, ANNE, JANE &, GINA and many others would work well and of course it could be worked in different colours.


Even if you have selected a complete kit from a designer known to you, it is well worth while opening the pack up, checking on the threads against the contents page, perhaps even changing a shade to suit you better, noting what size frame you will need (don’t forget the drawing pins to fix the canvas) and making sure there are enough needles!
I often take a small piece for waiting around; extra spec cases, the Kaleidoscope design in particular using up small quantities of threads is always a good choice for either presents or different schemes for sun-glasses, reading glasses and stronger ones for stitching.
Here I have the sun glass case, worked in brightly coloured cottons …………………….
Heavy things first:
Lowery Silver grey work stand with side clamp; 
I know this is quite heavy but couldn’t think of being without it even for my short weeks in Italy each year.  My daughter lives in France and as I travel with carry-on only have a second frame there – cheaper to buy one frame than pay for luggage to be checked in each time
PureLite, Three in one Lamp and magnification– a new addition to my battery of tools that I find really helpful.  It has magnification and can operate on either electricity or with batteries.    Accessories include allow for it to be a floor, table or clip on lamp.
The floor base is heavy for travel so I opt for either the table base or the clip on lamp.   The 4 C size batteries (should you plan to use it without electricity) are not included so be sure to pack some
The magnification is also helpful
Our apartment in Tortola had a charming balcony so when the dusk came – quite early in that part of the world – I was able to continue to enjoy my stitching.
iPad useful for keeping a record of stitches, ply and quantities besides keeping in touch with the outside world and using as an e-reader.   In addition there are some useful stitch apt to give extra ideas.  Well worth checking with your destination that Wi-Fi is widely available and if there are any charges.
One decision I regretted was my selection of books on the iPad; they were all interesting but very much of the same type.  For my next trip I hope to make more of a varied selection and hope to start doing that in good time.  
Camera
 (I managed with the iPad and emails rather than expensive calls on my mobile and not easy with the 5 hour time change.
 Electric tooth brush
And most important the various chargers for each piece of equipment.
AS I was also designing I took a selection of graph paper so I was able to chart stitches and design as they were worked – and didn’t have to do them on my return!
As we plan to return next year I plan to research something that will play tapes and talking books which I love.    It would appear that American tapes don’t work on English machines but I must do some more research.
Needles of all sizes, small embroidery scissors; the small curved scissors are officially sufficiently small to be allowed on airplanes however do pack a second pair in your check in luggage as in some overseas airports they have been known to confiscate them – little point to argue!
Correct size frame, I tend to take narrow artist stretcher bars for easy of transport and, for larger pieces I swop them over to wider, stronger bars when I get home.   Again don’t forget the drawing pins (I believe they are called thumb tacks in the US
………………………………………………………
So a spot of background to Tortola which we loved so much that we already plan to return early next year.
Tortola is the capital island of the British Virgin Island, part of a stunning variety of more than 60 island; beautiful islands to visit by frequent ferries or private charter.   The history of these islands goes way back beyond Christopher Columbus who encountered this very special corner of the Caribbean however before that Amerindian tribes had made their way up the island chain by canoe from Venezuela several centuries earlier but Columbus found no trace of them, perhaps they had moved on.


The British Annexed in 1672 when they established cotton and sugar plantations and soon were exporting rum and molasses to England.  In 1834 when slavery was abolished in the British West Indies (these plantations relied to a great extent on the slaves); this way of life declined.
From the mid-19th century the former slaves were the only inhabitants until the 1960/70s when the islands started to become a popular yacht centre.    Today tourism is the mainstay of the economy along with a growing international finance industry.
So why did we chose Tortola for our month’s adventure?  First friends some years ago had loved it and talking with many others, some of whom had only spent hours on the island from their cruise ship all were so enthusiastic as being the highlight of their holiday.
Another, very personal reason for choosing the island was that Robert had an old university friend who had gone out there with his wife and three young children in 1965 to become the island’s first surgeon.   I believe there were approximately only 50 expats living on the island then.  His salary was also interesting, besides a cash amount there was a horse to get around to his patients (the roads were almost non-existent – and are still ‘challenging’.    With many islands to visit patients and not a confident horse rider he quickly changed the horse for a boat – in fact the same boat that he had sailed his family the last part of the journey from England to Tortola!

We had very firm ideas of not wishing to stay in a hotel, the thought of 3 large meals a day would have been too much of a temptation so it was to the self-catering section we devoted our search a d came up with a delightful Airbnb.   A self-contained apartment, part of a charming house set in beautiful gardens in the hills.   This apartment, up in the hills, was considerably cooler than down on the beaches but posed the problem of driving the simply terrifying roads – steep bends, unmade surfaces, pot holes and more hazards – we decided to drive only in daylight and alcohol free!  Actually lunch out and dinner on our own balcony suited us well.
The West end of the island, where we were, was particularly attractive; a series of beautiful beaches with calm seas divided by steep headlands dividing them.    One could find some beaches with no other person but on ‘cruise ship days’ certain beaches had to be avoided as they were crowded with the day visitors.
We met other friendly people, a retired nurse who had trained way back with one of my English stitching friends.  She has lived there since 72 and was able to take us to the Sunday Church Service at a charming Episcopalian Church in one of the bays;  it is many years since we have seen such a well-dressed congregation;  only about 1/3 European living there but without exception everyone was in their best outfits – hats for the ladies and NO trousers, suits and jackets for the men and each child had their best ‘party outfit’    The Service was longer than we would expect in our church in London but with hearty singing, an interesting Sermon, the introduction of new visitors (including us who got a small memento) and the acknowledgement of the children of the Confirmation class it passed most agreeably.
The other event that, for us, was a first was a Sports Bar where we watched the Rugby, Ireland versus in the morning and after lunch and a certain amount of beer, England versus     in the afternoon.   With 3 large television screens the turnout was tremendous and the encouraging cheering most encouraging (England won their match!)
As usual, I always have my eyes open for inspiration for new designs, no way disappointed I met with a charming lady, Jill Tattersall (the former wife of the surgeon who is still there) who paints the most charming scenes of life on the island – she brings a blend of architecture and activities she sketched on her arrival giving a accurate glimpse o who things were when they first arrived.

I do hope, with her approval to paint some of the scenes as needlepoint projects;  at present I am trying to capture the flavour of her paintings together with the restrictions of a needlepoint piece.  Please watch this space as we progress
Next year, as I have mentioned, we plan to return however on the edge of one of the bays, enabling us to walk out to local restaurants and perhaps take the odd taxi to some of the Full Moon parties particularly the one in Trellis Bay where the artist Aragon Dick-Read is renowned for his famous fireball sculptures.   I also hope to encourage my son and his wife, who are professional sailors to join us for a while so we can explore some of the other islands.