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Saturday, September 26, 2009

Needlework Nibbles: Silk Purl

If you've been reading this blog for a while, you know that I enjoy trying out new threads and new (to me) needlework techniques.  However, I fully admit that I often will buy a new thread and never actually do anything with it.  Because of this, I was thrilled when Tricia Wilson-Nguyen of Thistle Threads started designing her "Needlework Nibbles."

In Tricia's words:

Needlework Nibbles are small projects designed to let you try a new material that is hard to find or new technique. The new materials are usually one that I have imported or had made to my specifications to allow us to do a type of needlework not practiced very much anymore. Often, these materials may be in short supply or packaged such that they are expensive. The 'Nibble' allows the stitcher to try the material/technique out before committing to a larger investment.
I purchased both kits for the July Nibbles, which made use of silk-wrapped purl, a thread that originally was used in the 17th century, but has only recently been recreated.  If you're familiar with the purl threads used in goldwork, you know that they're coils of wire that are typically couched down or added like beads.  (Actually, I featured purls in one of my very first blog posts.)  The silk-wrapped purl is exactly what it sounds like:  metal purl "threads" wrapped with silk.  I'm not going to go into detail about it, since Mary of Needle 'N Thread already has a fantastic post about the thread.  (Thanks, Mary!)

I can, however, report a bit about stitching with this thread, and about the Needlework Nibbles kits.

The kits contained everything needed to complete the stitching of the project, including needles, and also contained backing fabric to finish the piece as a scissors fob or ornament.  At right is the kit for the Pink Silk Purl Bug, and the kit for the Rainbow Silk Purl Bug is shown below.

Each kit included plenty of the silk purl to complete the design.

I found that the silk purl was slightly tricker to use than regular pearl purl. I used my serrated-edge scissors designed for metallic threads, and while these cut through the metal, the silk sometimes wasn't cut all the way through. I had to keep a close eye on the thread when cutting to ensure both metal and silk were cut before letting the two pieces separate, or the silk would start to unwind from the metal.

Actually, the unwinding of the silk is the biggest downfall of using this thread. In some spots on my finished bugs, the ends of the threads have plain metal showing, and in other cases, the silk is slightly frizzy. In the closeup of the pink bug, you can see both of these: frizzy light pink silk at the point of the right wing, and a tiny bit of exposed metal at the second row in at the bottom of the body.

I'm glad I worked the pink bug, where all of the purl was couched, before trying the rainbow bug. The rainbow bug used couched purl for the head, but all of the rest was cut and threaded like beads.

A very big thank you to Tricia Wilson-Nguyen for making these kits available.  I don't know when I'll use silk purl again, but I'm sure I'll find that it's the perfect thread for something.  By trying it, I now know its properties.  I think it might be interesting to try to use this on canvas, perhaps on a painted canvas, for just the right effect.

Oh - one additional note:  I did not use the linen that came in the kits, choosing instead to use linen twill left over from a stumpwork project.  I've got some ideas about using several of these Nibbles (if they're of similar sizes) in a project together.  Speaking of size, the pictures above are a bit misleading.  These bugs are pretty small.  I worked both of these on one piece of linen in a 5" hoop.  Below is a better picture with a standard US quarter for reference.

Has anybody else tried the silk purl? Can you come up with interesting ways to use this thread? Please share your ideas!

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Corner experiments

Since I don't have a one-for-one match for all of the threads originally used on My Way, I need to play with my threads and colors for each area. (Tough job, but somebody's got to do it.) Before I start stitching either the corner or center of a block, I go through my threads and select replacements for the called-for threads in that area. Rather than just assuming I'll always use thread X in place of original thread Y, I like to see how all the pulled threads work together.

Sometimes it works. Sometimes it doesn't. Case in point - the original threads I pulled for the corners on my block G:

Wow. That outer teal band, while pretty by itself (especially stitched in two strands of Impressions), sticks out like a sore thumb next to the rest of the corner. It's a bit too bright and provides too much contrast. The problem is that the instructions say to pull a dark color of this family, and I really don't have a dark teal.

I wondered what would happen if I changed that band to a dark gray-blue from my neutrals family. Here's the result:

It's a bit tough to see in the photo with the reflection off of the pearl cotton, but this combination seems to be better, though I'm still not completely sold on it.  What do you think?  Should I change something else?

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Walking a tightrope

When playing with design, you have to keep the balance of the original (and perhaps improve upon it).  In the case of My Way, this means positioning similarly shaped motifs opposite each other.  It's difficult to describe, but pictures can help tell the story.

In the original design, the layout of the blocks is as follows:

Notice how some similar motifs are positioned relative to each other:
  • Blocks B and E both have the rounded square inner area, with corner areas that emphasize a diagonal direction away from the center of the block.  These are in the two middle positions of the design.
  • Located in two opposing corners of the design, blocks A and F have a distinct cross in the center with corners that remind me of a log cabin quilt.
  • Blocks C and D are in the other two corners, and have a diamond-shaped center with corners that have an all-over, non-directional pattern.
When I started stitching my version, I started block A in the middle position, rather than in a corner, just to be different.   As a result, block B ended up in a corner, and I moved block E to the opposite corner so these two blocks again balanced each other.  Here's my design-in-progress.

Along the way, I decided to not stitch block D since (in my opinion) it draws the eye a bit too much.  I'm replacing it with block G.   Block G has a distinct cross in the center, so I'm using this block opposite A.  However, the original corners for G have an "X" or star shape emphasized.  To balance the log cabin look of the A corners, I'm stealing the corners from block F to use on my block G.

In one of the remaining two corners of the design, block C has been started.  Block F is planned for the opposite corner.  In stitching F, I'll need to select colors carefully to emphasize a diamond shape rather than a cross as in Carolyn's original.  Oh, and I need to use the corners from block D here to balance those of block C.

Confused yet?  Don't worry.  It is confusing, especially when it's not sitting right in front of you.  The point is that if you're going to make significant changes to the layout of a geometric design, sometimes you need to walk a tightrope (i.e. keep balancing!) while juggling (areas of the design, that is).

Erin update:  Hooray!  The cast is off!  Erin did NOT enjoy the process of cutting it off.  Can you say terrified?  After a rough evening yesterday, she did fairly well today.  She does need to wear a brace most of the time, but it can be removed for some play times.  She really enjoyed being able to wiggle, and managed to roll from stomach to back (twice!), even though her legs are still pretty stiff and stick out to each side.

The unfortunate news is that Erin's left hip is still quite unstable.  She will need to undergo further surgery after her first birthday and then have another cast for six weeks.  :-(

For now, I'm enjoying having my squishy baby back.  :-)

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Back to My Way

To scratch my itch for canvaswork, I've again picked up My Way, which was started almost a year ago.  To recap, the class with Carolyn Mitchell was in November 2008, but the borders were done as prework to the class.  Each stitcher picked her own colors to fill in this six-block pattern.  I chose mulberry and turquoise, with a "neutral" family of bluish-gray.  I was unsuccessful in finding all of the colors I needed in the threads called out in the instructions, so I'm winging it in some cases.

This week, I've been working on Block G.  How do we have block G if there are only six blocks?  Well, that was part of making the design "my way" for each stitcher.  We have seven blocks to choose from.

I'm not at all sold on keeping the center hearts as the lightest turquoise, mostly because it doesn't really pop.  This shade is too close to the blue-gray of the border.  I may replace this with a medium shade if it doesn't work with the rest of the design, but for now I'll leave it.

Here's the whole thing so far.  I'm deliberately leaving each block only partially done so I can make changes if the whole design doesn't balance.

Up next:  the corner of this block.  Stay tuned!

Erin update:  CAST-OFF COUNTDOWN:  1 day, 3 hours.
Of course, she finally slept well last night.  Rather than waking every 3-4 hours like she has ever since being casted, she slept straight through from 11PM to 6:30AM.  Figures.  And now we're going to disrupt that by taking the cast off!

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Flowers and berries and bees, oh my!

Catherine Theron's How Great the Blessing sampler continues to be the focus of my stitchy attention.  As you can see, I've added the bees (cross stitch and double-running), a few berries (satin stitch), the outer area of several flowers (queen stitch), and the grout of a brick walk for a house (tent stitch over one).  Only in stitching can you add grout before the bricks!

All of the flowers are "supposed" to be filled in like the one on the left, but I really like them just with the outside areas done.  I can't really pull out the central areas of the bottom left flower due to the fabric distortion caused by the queen stitches, though.  Right now I'm going to proceed with filling in the flowers off of the vines on each side, but leave the center plant as it is. 

There's also supposed to be some small vines in freehand surface embroidery in the empty areas next to the squirrel and the bunny, but I think I like the space there for now.  We'll see how this looks as I get more of the sampler done.  I can always add them later.

I really do want to finish this sampler this year (after all, I've already added the year), but I've got an itch to do some canvas work.  I'm going to pull out Carolyn Mitchell's My Way, which I started last year before my pregnancy eliminated my ability to work on large canvases mounted on stretcher bars!

Erin update:  CAST-OFF COUNTDOWN:  6 days to go!

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Decent progress

Wow!  It's been a bit over a week since I last posted, but I've been making good progress on my Blessing sampler.  Erin's been cooperating by going to sleep around 8PM each night, so I've had time to stitch! 

I finished the grass and the vases, then added the strawberries, the squirrel and bunny, the center plant, and one queen-stitched flower.  There are 14 more of these flowers (5 on the center plant, and 5 on each side), and they'll take some time. 

A few pieces in my stash are calling to me to start them, but I already have too many started, and really need to finish a few (ok, at least two) before starting anything else, hence the concentration on this piece.

Erin update:  We have a date for cast removal!  Cast-off day is Monday, September 21.  Two weeks to go.  Erin is getting very impatient with the cast.  She's now seven months old, and wants to GO!  She's constantly getting frustrated that she can't reach something or she'll try to throw herself backward when she's sitting on someone's lap.  It's like she knows she should be able to move more, but can't quite figure out why she can't.

Here's a picture from a couple of weeks ago.  Somebody had given us this really pretty dress, and it was just hanging in her closet waiting for a special occasion.  I finally decided that any day could be a special occasion, or the dress wouldn't be worn at all!  When DH first saw this dress, he commented that it looked like she was wearing a tablecloth (though since then he's decided it's really cute on her). 

This past week, Erin's started to wrinkle her nose at times.  It's pretty funny.  Here she is (in a different pink gingham dress) when trying Cheerios for the first time yesterday.
Don't worry. Other pictures showed that maybe Cheerios were ok after all.  :-)