October 28, 2006

Sampler Sunday: Raise High the Roofbeam, Carpenter

I've been working on a house for my homesite in Whale Hunting. Wouldn't it be nice if it were as easy to put a house on a real homesite?

We've been IRL house hunting. The neighborhood we selected is not that far from where we live and still walking distance to my commuter lot. It's a pretty neighborhood of about 1000 homes with miles of paved walking trails and graceful common areas, and I've wanted to live there for years. It's about 15 years old, so it benefits from mature plantings and trees, and the houses appear to be in good shape. Except they're not, at least inside, where there's stuff falling off, falling apart, dirty, unworkable, shorted out. There are transparent attempts at concealing deficiencies and coats of paint just slapped on over the grime, and poor patch jobs. And why does it not occur to anyone that we might be opening the refrigerator, the oven, flipping the light switches, sniffing the air for signs of wet basements, mildew and mold, peering into attics and garages and cabinets? So many huge houses, and a lot of them look inside like the houses in ghost towns in the west, where some cataclysm occurred, and people moved out seemingly within minutes, leaving a half-finished meal and dishes on the table. It wouldn't be remarkable if it didn't seem to be most of them! And yet drive or walk through the neighborhood and everything looks just so: neat, manicured, landscaped, decorated, serene.

So in this soft market, we've moved on to new houses, where the builders are adding incentives by the day to move their inventory, so that new pristine houses are much less expensive than used houses. We are considering this model, where they're so far willing to throw in a free finished basement. There is 3,500 feet of space for our offices and hobbies. I'm thinking there might be room for something I've always wanted to buy--an ironing table. An ironing table is bigger than an ironing board and stays up all the time. I love to iron, and it's essential if you sew, which I want to do more of. I dislike the screechy crashing noise of putting up and taking down our present ironing board. The house is pretty, but the neighborhood is not, at least right now. It will take a number of years for there to be the plantings and trees. Developers in this area just bulldoze it all, throw up the houses and move on. I was thinking that if we buy this though, I will embroider a copy of this drawing onto the sampler hill surrounded by blueberry vines that I showed you a couple of weeks ago--the one with not enough stuff around the house. Just like in real life.

Here's the Sunday Sampler. I think the verse is a hoot: "Needles and Pins/Needles and Pins/When a Man Marries/His Troubles Begin/Needles and Pins." Sexist, but still funny, especially since it's a wedding sampler. I like the border and the animals. It's by Theron Traditions and is charted for 36 ct. linen in DMC colors. It'd be a great jokey--but still pretty--gift for the bride and groom with a sense of humor.

October 26, 2006

New Friends and Old

I took my new best friend, Bernina, for an outing yesterday. I took a getting-to-know-your-new-Bernina class at a quilt/sewing center. It's not exactly a new machine, since it's been tucked underneath my computer table for the last three years, waiting for me to get a chance to read the manual. My old machine was a used, much-loved simple Singer, so I was a bit intimidated by the new machine when I got it, even though it's pretty much the bottom of their line (quite deliberately--I sew enough to know that I don't need--could never justify--a fancier model). This model is the only mechanical one they make, and clearly the ladies at the sewing center found it kind of quaint and inferior. It was as if I'd ridden a bicyle into the local Mercedes dealership to request service. Most of the quilting center ladies, it seems, own several different models of the elaborately computerized Berninas which are capable of everything including driving the family car and running a CT scan on the brain. The computerized machines do an unlimited number of embroidery scenes--horrifyingly sterile things. And if I wanted my quilt to look store-bought, I would go to the store and buy one!

Not only that, but my mother (a couture-quality sewer who used to make our lined winter coats), could sew rings around them and their fussy machines (jeez, you look at your computer screen instead of the fabric) with an old treadle machine that had nothing but a backward and forward stitch.

I did pick up one handy hint though, even for us hand-stitchers: cut your thread at an angle, and it slides right into the needle's eye--no wetting or pinching required. I tried it, and it works!

Anyway, I'm pleased with my machine (even though it's disconcertingly quiet; I miss the thunk thunk thunk of the old Singer). I want to cut up this table cloth and stitch it into a set of curtains for my sewing/computer/fish room. My great-grandmother stitched this cloth, and whole load of others like it, several of which I have. It's not particularly delicate work, as you can see, but it's charming anyway, indelible gravy/wine stains and all. I love the idea that it will hang in my sewing room where I have my comfy stitching chair and now my new sewing machine sitting out on the table, ready to be used. Maybe after the curtains, needlework smalls!

And here's an old friend--and not a single stitch of it done by machine.

October 22, 2006

Sampler Sunday: House Hunting Edition

The first two days of vacation have gone wonderfully. We went IRL househunting today and looked at a house on a precipice. It had the best glassed-in sunroom I have ever seen and would be perfect for stitching. So who cares if you'd have to mow the lawn with a mountaineering rope tied around your waist anchored to a tree? It made me think of the Jeep? Subaru? commercial where the guy parachutes out of his house and to his waiting car.

Sampler Sunday wouldn't be complete without a sampler, though, would it? I have nothing to criticize in this one. I love it--the Plymouth Sampler--although I've seen it everywhere. I saw a stitched model done in a high threadcount in, of all places, Plymouth, at The Sampler, and I have tried test-stitching it on a couple of different fabrics to see which I'd prefer. I'm doing it over one on 38 count linen with DMC in half crosses (no room for the full cross, which makes it go a tad faster, although you have to stab rather than sew so it's probably a wash time-wise). This is fun, but only in the best light! The penny will give you an idea of the scale. My motto: why do anything the easy way and why stitch something you can actually see?

Warning: Adult Content Ahead

Because I’m a bunny mom, I’m crazy over all things rabbit and look for projects that feature them. I also like snowmen. So imagine how thrilled I was to find that Sisters and Best Friends, one of my favorite needle artist teams, who are also the designers of the Uncle Willy snowman chart that I just kitted up to stitch soon, which pictures a confused-looking snowman wrapped in Christmas lights and sporting a bright orange button nose, has designed a snowman looking at his little friend, a bunny. It’s called "Pals." This snowman isn’t sporting just a nose. He looks to be sporting a uh...um... Well. The bunny is too small, and his placement in the scene is problematic.

I am imagining the conversation over in the Quality Control Department at Sisters and Best Friends Corporate HQ:
"Sister, you know that I love you, don’t you? And you’re my best friend, too, right?"
"Of course, Sis. What’s up?"
"Well, I am not sure quite how to say this, but you know that cute snowman you just designed with the bunny friend?"
"Yes, Sis. Why do you ask?"
"They’re really cute and all, Sister, but perhaps you should take a few steps back and look at the chart again?"
"Sis, I don’t have time for this. We have to get these charts to the publisher!"
"Oh, right. But maybe we should stitch him some pants?"
That said, I do like the chart and the cute button pack that comes with it. The designers really are wonderful; is it their fault I have a smutty mind?

October 19, 2006

Treasure Chest

Photo used by permission of Button & Needlework Boutique.
If I were going to own a needlework shop, this is exactly how I would want it to look. This is the Button & Needlework Boutique in Victoria, British Columbia. Isn't this inviting? I wish I had known it was there the last time I was in Vancouver! But since a five-hour flight isn't in my vacation plans next week, I called up and ordered a kit instead. It arrived promptly, sent by the nice person I spoke with on the phone.

If the B&NB is the treasure chest, here is the treasure:

This chart was designed by a Canadian designer, Bunny Tales Embroidery. (B&NB highlights Canadian designers, including Victoria Sampler and Jeannette Douglas Designs, on a portion of their website.) This particular chart, called Afternoon in the Orchard, is a recreation of a decoration from a margin in a Book of Hours. Bunny Tales has other Book of Hours needlework projects, but they are all much larger. This will not be a quick or easy stitch either, as it's full of fractional stitches, beads, Kreinik metallics, backstitching and sections of over-one. On 32 count linen, this project will be something like 3" x 26" before the framing margins. Because it uses mostly DMC flosses (about 60 colors) it will even be a fairly reasonably priced project. The beautifully executed stitching directions and symbols on five large sheets of paper look to be precise and easy to follow and hint at the glories to come. I will be kitting this up and starting it on my vacation next week, since I have the week off and have tried to keep my other obligations to a minimum. Poor BF: "Glenna, do you want to go out to lunch? How about a drive in the country? Or we could see a movie. How about a dinner at that nice place on the river?" Glenna: "No. Shut up."

And here's some more progress on Whale Hunting. Now that the ground is stitched in this section, I'm free to do ocean stitching and the big red house that sits on the hill. I'll work on that next week too. Plus Birth of Jesus. As you can imagine, I'm looking forward to this vacation hugely.

October 15, 2006

Sampler Sunday: Chiggers and Ticks and Fleas, Oh My!

This is one of the sight-unseen samplers I ordered over the 'net from the fabulous Homespun Samplar, in Rhode Island. From online order to my mailbox has been 4 days for each of my two orders. And their web site is wonderful for passing the time on a slow day at work, too, since they have samplers I haven't seen anywhere else, and you can work your way through their stock aphabetically by name of sampler (or by designer). As I've said, normally I see a sampler in a needlework shop, sometimes after having seen it on the web. Buying a sampler on the web can bring surprises, because the photos are small and indistinct and you don't necessarily notice features that reveal themselves only "in person." This is one of those samplers. I loved it online--it's a Scarlet Letter Sampler called "Sarah Ann Downend." With certain reservations I also like it in person, especially the flock of sheep, whose bodies are stitched in French knots. Interestingly, there are no people in this picture. Perhaps they are staring out of one of the 18 windows?

What I didn't notice online: check out the border. Now it may just be picky on my part, but doesn't that border look an awful lot like chiggers? I don't remember seeing chiggers up north when I lived there, although we have them down here. If you've never experienced one, they're tiny red bugs (they look like miniature red ticks) that attach themselves to your legs when you're walking through high grass or a field, and their bites are a terrible torment. Just think--we could do a whole series of pest samplers after stitching the Chigger Chart. The pest possibilities are endless: The Mighty Mite Sampler; the Green Bottle Fly Sampler; the Anopheles Mosquito Sampler. Two other things about this sampler: the verse is unpleasant--"the loss of a father is much/the loss of a mother is more..."--but it is a historical reproduction, so that's okay (and might explain why there are no people in it, after all). I don't care much for the awkward, off-center medallian with Sarah's name in it either. Too bad, because I really love that flock of sheep and the sheepdog.

Today I nursed a headache and did some more stitching on Whale Hunting but put the stitching away early and took a nap before dinner.

October 14, 2006

Laying Groundwork

I spent quite a bit of time this week stitching grass and rocks on Whale Hunting. Yawn--but it needs to be done. I'm excited about beginning to stitch whales and more ocean and the church that sits on the grass, so that will be my reward when I get the ground on this page completely stitched. The dark spot in the corner is my shadow.

Tomorrow is Sampler Sunday, otherwise known as my Sunday Open House, in honor of all those houses that BF and I have toured on a Sunday, finding glaring flaws of one kind or another, and then coming home to quarrel about--LOL.

And speaking of samplers, I think we should all support companies that give us a nice tasteful sampler on their packaging. This is the Route 11 Potato Chip Company. It may be a regional company, so you may not have seen these in your part of the country/world. I liked the flavor of the Yukon Gold potatoes, but I prefer a drier, softer potato chip--I think the kettle fried chips are too hard and greasy.

October 11, 2006

Sold, for $6 Billion

We knew they were up to something, didn't we? Did anyone notice how plump the shelves had become? How many new brands of embroidery scissors there were, and the fact that the anemic-looking DMC slots were suddenly stuffed full? Well this is the answer. Michaels' shareholders on October 5 voted for a merger with a couple of private equity firms. Those firms paid a tasty premium to the shareholders; last spring Michaels' shares were trading at about $29/share, and the merger agreement is for $44/share. Once the purchasers have acquired all these shares, they'll then delist the shares from the stock market and take the company private. A lot of companies are doing that now. Once the company is private, they'll be able to get out from under the onerous chores of financial reporting to the SEC and the public. There was a flurry before the meeting of company insiders doing some perfectly legal exercising of their stock options to buy shares of stock for $10.50 (give or take) a share, which they will receive $44 for. Do you think the guys who brought you cut-rate crafts and cheesy materials and not enough of anything really (and who incidentally drive all the little scrapbooking stores out of the neighborhood when they came to town) deserve to become millionaires over their great craft and home dec insights?

So all that business with the overstuffed aisles and nice coupons and lots of choice? It's nothing more than someone getting gussied up for a first date. It'll be interesting to see what happens after they're married....

Here's some progress on a project that I didn't buy at Michaels (and I need to stitch poor Joseph's eye first thing). Isn't his robe a hoot? I didn't even mind that the pinkish stripes are actually mauve.

October 08, 2006

Sunday Open House

I'm conducting a small experiment in selecting a sampler online. While I like all of the things I am stitching, I have a hankering to find a "historical" feeling sampler, and I want to find it online. I want a pleasing design not overwhelmed by alphabet/numbers--not for me the samplers with nothing but strip after strip of alphabet. There needs to be an architecturally pleasant house, some flora and fauna (preferably sheep, rabbits, cats and/or birds--all other wildlife is optional). I want my real estate to have a water view, something I could never afford IRL. A stream or pond is nice; an ocean is preferable. If an ocean, there should be a ship, either docked or sailing. The colors should be vibrant--not muted and dull--and contain little--if any--mauve, since I despise mauve. It has to be something I haven't seen all over the net and in every needlework shop. The Plymouth sampler (which I own), is a perfect illustration of many of the elements I'm looking for, but I've seen it everywhere, so it's disqualified for these purposes, although I'll stitch it very soon anyway! The design elements have to be balanced--neither crowded/cluttered nor sparse. It has to be complex enough to be interesting, but not so complex as to be daunting. It can be all cross stitch, or contain other stitches. Specialty fibers are great but not necessary.

The contenders, chosen after squinting at the tiny and in some cases blurred pictures online (and I have a 17-inch screen at work; it's just as bad there) have begun to arrive. Yesterday I received four. I won't post them all today, but I will post them periodically, along with my impressions. You're free to disagree, and bear in mind, even if I'm critical, I like ALL of these things and would not insult a designer; I'm simply expressing disagreement with some elements of the design. In short, I'm no expert or artist, but it's like any househunting expedition--some houses that others may find attractive might leave you cold. And you might fall in love with the funky house with the awkward rooms and bad mauve carpet because you love the built-in shelves around the stone fireplace.

Open House Number One is "The Farm on Blueberry Hill" from Griffin Needleart Designs. I like this, but there is a problem. The colonial house is nice. The sheep are done in various colors of Wisper mohair fiber--fun. The colors are great, particularly the blue, and I love the twining blueberry vine. There's a cute pond with a bonus swan. The alphabet is simple and nicely balanced. What I don't like: there's too much empty space around the house--those flying birds don't fill it enough. And I don't mind charms and buttons, but they should enhance the design, not simply fill up some space. How I'd change the design: elmininate about 15-20 rows in the middle, pulling the house closer to the alphabet. Of course, the blueberry vine would have to be re-balanced as a result, but I believe that would be a winner. Not sure I want to go to the trouble, but I like the lovely colors and fuzzy sheep. In short, appealing, but not The One.

I'll leave you with a picture of my latest WIP: "The Birth of Jesus." I'm using 34 ct Legacy Linen in "wren's wing" and Needlepoint silks. Love this project so far, especially the lazy daisy stitches that form the fronds of the palm trees. I wish this were a larger, more complex project, because it's a blast to stitch.

October 07, 2006


There are lots of distractions this weekend. It is chilly and rainy, and I'm thinking about that impossibly soft yellow sweater I'm knitting. I really should pick up the needles for a while this weekend.

Then there's Charles Frazier's new book, Thirteen Moons. He's the author of Cold Mountain (loved the book, but despised the choice of actress--the brittle Nicole Kidman--and I thought the screenplay was awkward and clunky), and this new book promises to be interesting. Like Cold Mountain, it's off to a bit of a slow start. I love his voice, though; I can hear western North Carolina in every sentence. I lived there for a while, and in Eastern Tennessee, and I've spent a lot of time camping and hiking in the Smokies, so it's like a return to a dear and familiar territory.

I'm off to the library too, to pick up some books I reserved ages ago and still want to read (although I may decline a couple of them since I won't get to them quickly, and others might as well read them first). Doesn't it figure they'd arrive when I have all these other things to read and do?

Some stash arrived in the mail yesterday including the rest of the fibers for "Birth of Jesus," and I'm becoming a total fan of Elegant Stitch in California. In each case I've ordered from them on a Tuesday afternoon and have received my order in the mail Friday. I've started "Birth of Jesus" which is working up to be far more colorful than the picture hinted at. Pictures of all that tomorrow, when I've made enough progress to share. And I've moved into a fourth page (out of twelve) of "Whale Hunting." There's lots of ground to cover, quite literally. Funny that I am not tired of stitching the ocean but don't much enjoy all that yellowy-green grass. Fortunately, I have a week off planned later this month so I can get some of this stuff done!

October 04, 2006

A Nice Morning to Stand on the Side of the Road

Two mornings in a row they closed I-95 so a helicopter could come in and wisk someone away who'd met with misfortune in the form of a couple of tons of moving metal. In each case we sat for a long time. Today we got off the bus and looked around, enjoying the sunshine and the novelty of walking up and down the HOV lane, if not the prospect of being late for work a second day. For those of you who live in Northern Virginia, you'll recognize that lollipop sign in the distance as being Potomac Mills. To the twitchy, anxious federal agent who looked like he was going to fling himself out the window and sprint the remaining 25 miles to work: a portable hobby helps.

So when I got back to my seat, I got out my portable hobby and completed the Christmas Sampler in Red by Plum Pudding Needleart (one strand of burgundy Needlepoint Inc. Silk over two done on 38 ct Italian cream linen): I need to do French knots on the "P" and the "E" (or is it just the "E"--I have to consult the chart), but I might use some beads instead. I like doing French knots, and they turn out well, but I think they'll be too small, so I'll use gold or burgundy beads.

I've enjoyed working on this sampler and will go back to working on Whale Hunting until the rest of my fibers arrive for Birth of Jesus. And in the meantime, I got busy with the Internet and ordered some stash I've been wanting from Em-Li's in North Carolina, the sweetest lady who calls herself "elderly," but who has a positively encyclopedic memory for the name and designer of every sampler we talked about. Then I purchased a couple of items from Homespun Samplar in Rhode Island. I'm feeling as if I want to do a traditional sampler, a big, complex, historic sampler, maybe something different than I've tried before. We'll see. It's harder to choose something on the internet than in person, though, isn't it? There are just those thumbnails that blow up into something just a bit bigger, but never big enough. So this will be an experiment.

And Michelle, if you'll permit me this once to imitate your wonderful idea of a gratitude each day:

I am grateful for having a bathroom on my commuter bus.

October 01, 2006

Sail Into the Mystic

Picture of Gay Head Light at Aquinnah courtesy of Capecodphotoalbum.com

"Hush now, hear the sailors cry
Smell the sea and feel the sky
Let your soul and spirit fly
Into the Mystic.
When that foghorn blows,
I will be coming home....
Yeah, when that foghorn blows,
I want to hear it.
I don't have to fear it."

Van Morrison

St. Peter's Church on the Canal, Buzzards Bay, Massachusetts
St. Peter's was moved all in one piece, by floating barge, down the Cape Cod Canal, to its present location. It has a ship's-bow ceiling, and the altar has carved wooden fish and a ship's wheel.

"Whale Hunting"