Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Over the Rubicon...

Well, I am Caesar and I am over the Rubicon now; on my way freedom and power and over the first hurdle. At least, that's where I am, figuratively, with my Roman mosaic cross-stitch piece.

I am not entirely satisfied with the colors on the righ
t hand bundle, but it's the best I can do. Two skeins will look like they'll contrast nicely when you hold them next to each other, but stitched onto Aida they blend into the other. I had this trouble with my greys on the skull too, and there's just no solution. There are only so many colors of thread, and certainly only a fraction of that at my local Michael's where the colors are not organized in any way. If I were healthy I'd organize them myself.

In any case, even though I've crossed the Rubicon, turned legions into traitors, and made my position clear, there is still a long road ahead and Pompey doesn't fall easily. The entire background will be three shades of teal, interspersed at random. I'm going to see how it looks with half-stitches first and hope that it looks good since it will be a ton of work to do that entire background with cross stitches. My Obelix piece used half stitches for the menhir and the skin color and it looks just fine. On the mosaic it will also help the main design pop.

Christmas was Christmas and I had a perfect time with my dad, though tiring. It's not quite over yet though as my sister, her husband, and my nephew come down tomorrow and we'll exchange presents then. I got to show my dad lots of the Scottish TV show Still Game though, where it turns out I understand the Glaswegian accent better than he does. He loved it though and we watched a few other things too, including the two Discworld two-part programs based on The Color of Magic and the Hogfather (the latter being the poorer, I feel, for having missed the mark on a few characters).

Now I'm making a much-needed grocery list and letting some peanut butter caramel corn cool off (and trying not to eat it all before my sister and her troupe get here).

Monday, December 20, 2010

Plunging Back into Ancient Rome

Well, after distracting myself with the Christmas blackwork I've been working on my Roman mosaic piece again. It's such a daunting project. I'm thinking about doing the teal background in half-stitches to save some time and thread, not to mention my hands.

I really love the way it's turning out though. Granted, working from a mosaic makes it easier and makes it easy to be pleased with the result since it's similar in style to the original. Still, I am beyond chuffed with myself at how lovely the left rag bundle is. The colors are perfect and after I finish the scarfy bit I can move on to the butterfly and the wheel. I'm trying to work from left to right for some reason I can't remember.

This is a good time for needlework because it is a strange Christmas for me and I like the distraction. I didn't grow up with any real religion, I assumed Christians viewed the Bible and God the same way we viewed Greek mythology in school. Still, Christmas was always such a big, wonderful thing in our house. I assumed a lot of things as a child that I never asked anyone about. When you have four older siblings and a dad who often give you random silly answers like Calvin's dad in Calvin and Hobbes then I think it inhibits your question-asking drive.

So I assumed things, like that sit-coms were real families being recorded and that all families are recorded and turned into sit-coms in other countries and beamed out to space. I'm fairly certain that belief was re-enforced by a particular episode of ALF (which is STILL a totally awesome show).

Anyway, this Christmas day will be different because my mom works all day (and I mean ALL day 4:30 am to 5 pm). I didn't want to leave her alone so I'm staying here. Hopefully my dad will come spend Christmas day with me and then we can go up to my sister's house or she can come down here. It's strange though. My mom works for an airline, so if it's snowy she'll have to stay late. The best possible circumstance is getting to see her for an hour or two after she finishes work.

I've never not been with my family on Christmas day. Being at this point twenty-five years old it may be fairly impressive that I've always gotten to be with my mom and sister on Christmas day, other people are away at school or whatnot. Luckily I just received my whiskey stones (so you can drink chilled whiskey without watering it down) and I have some very fine wheat whiskey that my aunt and uncle sent me.

Also luckily, I have needlework, the ultimate distraction.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Another present ready to be wrapped....

Well, I finished my rhyme samplery thing! So happy to have it finished and ready to be ironed, framed and wrapped. I feel like I've been working on that thing non-stop for days, which is true, I guess. I neglected my Roman piece but Christmas is fast closing in so priorities change.

My direction on the red borders changed dramatically, because there just wasn't going to be enough space for it to still look nice in the frame and those flowery borders wouldn't have fit in with the style. I'll work those irises into my next project, perhaps using the Carl San
dburg quote "Poetry is the synthesis of hyacinths and biscuits."

In any case, I'm quite pleased with the final result. I like the borders, I like having the text in black and the borders in three dark colors. Again, I think my dad will really like it. I can't wait to see his face. I ordered a print for him that I'd temporarily forgotten about and now I'm wondering if I should just hold onto it until his birthday.

Well, we'll see. There's nothing like seeing my parents happy. Lately I don't feel capable of much else. Just waiting for Christmas so they can be distracted by my complete lack of ability to function in all other arenas. C'est la guerre.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Almost done with Poor Little Willy!

Well, I wouldn't say it's been fun, but at least my blackwork piece is over 50% done. It might be 100% finished but I haven't decided yet. I'd like to do another border on the top and bottom, something with a little bit of color (green and blue are colors, granted, but they're dark and monocolored).

My usual confidence has deserted me though. This piece has been such a nightmare and I still haven't decided whether or not to fill those gaps at the end of two text lines. If I do fill them, what with? Something completely different? A motif from the green border? I have no idea. It seems like pressing forward is also pressing my luck.

In the end, I know that I will press on. I have a plan, I have a pattern and I want this present to be impressive. Depending on the person, handmade gifts can be viewed as a cop out, cheating at Christmas or something. The effort that goes into a pair of hand-knit gloves or mittens is often not understood by those who don't knit. However, it must be understood that my dad is the opposite. He would rather have something his children made than pretty much anything else on earth (possibly he would enjoy a case of fine single malt Scotch whiskey even more, but don't quote me). Baked goods, knit things, wood projects (my brother's arena), etc... He loves it. Watching his face when I tell him I baked him something is one of my favorite things on earth. It drives me to wear myself down to a lump of pain and exhaustion, no matter what, just to see him enjoy something I baked.

Stitching one of his favorite old rhymes with elaborate borders and framing it is something I know he'll adore. I know he'll love it as-is but I want it to be huge. For the past few years at Christmas I have focused on my parents. For the past five years my sister and I have done their stockings (since they did ours for so many years) and I've gotten my siblings just one or two things while trying to get four or five presents for my parents. This has been a problem since my income is extremely low but happily my parents love the hand-made.

99% sure that the final lower border will be the irises shown on the chart in some previous post. The same dark green for the stems and a lighter (but not super bright) blue for the flowers. Still sliightly unsure on the final top border. Happy to have it this far done though! I still love blackwork more than anything. The even, certitude of cross-stitch but with more flexibility, what's not to love?

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Does working with Aida make you forget how to count?

Do you stare at the fabric, all the little squares, and immediately forget everything you meant to fix? Do you repeatedly count some segments? Does it cause you throw up your hands and give in to the mistakes? Do you slyly claim that the mistakes had to be made in deference to the Native American belief about such things?

Well, I do. It makes me crazy. I love needlework, absolutely love it. The problem is that there's too much to think of at once. With knitting you rarely have more than one thing to consider. Yeah there's counting rows sometimes and if you're doing Fair Isle there's more to think about but it's less work and there are typically large swatches of mindless knitting. I knit a lot of hats and I don't use a pattern so there's no counting and it's in the round so it's all knit stitch, no purl. I could do it in my sleep.

So here's a progress picture of my Victorian (or possibly earlier) rhyme about poor little Willy. I love how the border turned out but beyond that I am so frustrated. First the text was going to be too long (would screw up the border repeats) so I had to cut down the font to a
less pretty version. Then the border spacing was still off so I had to cut the right side vertical border down by one square which my dad probably won't notice but would drive me to drink. Then after I had already pulled out the first few words I realized that although I'd fixed the border spacing I'd yet again forgotten to indent the text so it would be centered.

Well. Screw. That. I refused to go back and yank it again. It would not be centered and everyone would have to deal with it. I might do a small fiery design in the spaces after th
e first and third lines or a motif based on the border. Opinions? In any case, I would make it look great or I would go on a ruthless killing spree. Honestly, It's surprising that more serial killers aren't needleworkers.

Granted, my mind is foggy on the best of days. Between the pain and the way the disease eats my memory away I have a real problem focusing on details. Yet I have chosen to make cross-stitch and blackwork my new favorite hobbies. Obviously the RSD is eating away at my whole brain and not just my memory functions. Obviously I should return to plain freehand embroidery (as I have a niece on the way I'm sure I will at some point).

Why have I included a picture of adorable five year old me with my ten year old sister? Because I keep thinking about the new little niece my sister is growing and wondering how my nephew Benjamin will react to having a little sister. I hope (and believe) that he will love her like I love my sister. He's such a sweet, happy kid. A two year old who is able to understand that he needs to be extra gentle with me will be a good big brother, I think.

Okay, no, I just really wanted an excuse to show off how darned adorable I was! Beat THAT, new baby. Baby Meredith has the monopoly on cuteness. Forever!

Monday, December 13, 2010

Progress, Progress, Progress

Despite an initial setback (some mistake that I can't even find) my Roman mosaic cross-stitch is going well. I've finished a good portion of the skull now, though it's less than I'm letting myself imagine since I'm filling in all the white squares with white thread. I just needed more work to do. Oh, and I'm crazy and apparently have a desire to have constantly aching eyes and hands.

On the side I've finished the pattern for a blackwork piece for my dad. It's hard to look at because I've changed several aspects but I like the main border I've chosen and really like the font. I'm doing two smaller borders on top (and bottom) of the main one (four or five squares high) and then a taller more eleborate border on top of that. The elaborate outermost borders on the top and bottom with have some color worked in, while the rest of the borders will be dark green and the text with be black.

My intent is to have it be sampler-ish. The quote is an old rhyme, Victorian, I believe, but possibly older than that. So in my head I can imagine women then using common rhymes as text for samplers and then filling the rest with border and motif practice and such. I also need to start work on a traditional family sampler thing for my sister and her family. You know, the classic names and dates of birth and such.

The picture is a bit all over but for the rhyme I'm doing the first two borders (top and bottom) and the fourth border. I got carried away and was trying to make it a square piece but gave up on that because my eyes were going really bleary. I was initially doing the dot/slash on the "i" but it was making the spacing weird in a few spaces so I decided to drop it (but didn't feel like going back and erasing it). I really think the font fits the quote.

The borders are from Lesley Wilkins Traditional Blackwork Samplers and the font is adapted from one in that book. The corner piece and border on the vertical side is my adaptation of the horizontal one. I especially like how the corner piece came out, though I ended up having to drop it so the spacing will work out correctly.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Slowly but Happily

I started work on my Roman mosaic cross-stitch piece the other day and am moving along slowly, but happily.

Why not slowly but surely? Because surety is not as important as keeping cross-stitching a happy hobby for me. I am disabled and unable to work, therefore I have a lot of hours I can embroidery each day. However, doing hours and hours each day eventually starts to feel like work (hence one reason why I've been taking a break from knitting).

With such a big, complex piece of needlework the chance of getting burnt out and sick of the project is even higher. I'm trying to keep a smaller project around to work on at the same time when I need a less taxing bit of work and am also trying to make some new patterns (Tintin and Captain Haddock are in the works). I have a Felix the Cat pattern I made but that might be a little too boring since he's all-black.

The last couple days I haven't done any work on the mosaic as my sister and nephew have been visiting. Yesterday my nephew said my name for the first time! He's connected my name to me for six months or more but this past month he's started vocalizing first granny, grandpa, and now me! He's such a sweetheart (25 months old now) and is really the light of my life. My sister is also currently pregnant with their second, due in early May, and we just found out it will be a girl! So then I'll have two lights of my life (and they're moving down here soon so I'll get to see them all the time)!

I'm also working up a blackwork pattern focused around this rather old rhyme which my dad loves:

Little Willy in the best of sashes
Fell in the fire and was burnt to ashes
By and by the room grew chilly
For no one liked to poke up Willy

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Buckling down for the good of all...

Well my last post must have been a bit cathartic because I buckled down and finished the cursed piece. It's not like there was much left to do, but it was all annoying because there were various corners that needed five or six stitches only. If they'd needed twenty stitches I wouldn't mind but a mere five or six is just...frustrating.

I even worked on it while hanging out with my sweet and maddeningly adorable nephew Benjamin. He's two years old and very into letters and numbers. He knows the whole alphabet and numbers up to twelve (and a few random teen number and maybe twenty, I forget) and whenever he sees words or numbers he likes to point them out. It makes it dangerous to do cross-stitch around him, given that toddlers are well-known to often have sticky, messy fingers, but I risked it. The phrase "This is a no-touch item," was oft repeated.

Of course, I may have rushed into this a little too heedlessly. Now all I have on the books is the big, complex Roman mosaic - a piece which alternately frightens and enlivens me. I am excited to do it, but I'm so scared of messing it up to the point where it must be scrapped.

The other day I made a Felix the Cat cross-stitch pattern and I'd like to do a Tintin piece for my nephew. My sister has a mug with Captain Haddock on it and a little picture of Tintin on the bottom, this has led young Benjamin to point to the bottom of all dishware, and pretty much anything he can pick up, and say "Tintin!" He has a dutch Tintin counting book which he absolutely adores.

As this is the formerly-cursed piece, I do absolutely love how it turned out. While the border was fussy and frustrating I think it looks wonderful and the greens are close enough in shade to not distract from the text yet distinct enough to make the mosaic pattern shine. Again, I adore my little snakes and mice, especially the mice, and I believe I'll try to work the basic design into a blackwork sampler featuring various animals.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Projects Lost in Time

With cross-stitch I have been immensely efficient. I have only once started a new project while the previous one remains unfinished and typically finish my projects in one to two days. I just sit there listening to my books on tape, doggedly stitching until a) it's finished or b) I can't move my hands (at which point I take a break for an hour or two and then take it back up). I am not so disciplined with knitting, I'm afraid.

However, there is a cross-stitch project which I started, designed an annoyingly wide and complex border for, and then proceeded to screw it all up. The text is fine and used a a font I designed myself, but it was a long quote, longer than I've done before and thus requiring a larger border. The quote, by the way, is from the TV show Better Off Ted, which is the funniest thing any network has come out with in one, maybe two, decades. Sadly it only lasted two seasons but both are available on Netflix instant viewing, and I highly recommend it.
Most of the border is a geometric pattern done in two fairly close shades of green. On the horizontal parts I added some animals that related to the quote in order to break up the monotony of the main border (and to make sure I had enough green for the rest). I also added some smaller blackwork letters in the lower border that include the last line of the quote (which isn't completely necessary but helps if you're unfamiliar with the quote).

Because of these additions I needed to stitch the bottom two lines of the border and the top two and then fill things in. On the bottom I did the bottom three lines without thinking and had to ripe them out. Then I noticed a problem in one of the corner bits, which was glaring to me though my mom couldn't really tell even when I'd pointed it out.

I am a perfectionist. I love symmetry, I love perfect spacing. Stuff like this makes me see red - not so much the finding of problems but having to rip out my stitches and do it all again. With the lower border I couldn't even reuse the thread, it was entangled with the other green color so I had to take it out with a seam-ripper (and my seam-ripper is crappy). Since then I have been loathe to pick up the project again. There's really not much left to do but it's like the whole thing has become a bit of bad luck. I've completed two projects since setting the cursed one down and started a new one to boot.

Here it is so far. I am going to try to start it again, though first I need to make sure I have the text completely worked out so I don't end up completely off-center and needing to do THAT again too. Sigh. It's my first real problem project (though I think the Roman mosaic will end up with a lot of frogging and re-stitching) and oh how I hate it, but I might hate it sitting there unfinished and looking at me even more.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Obelix C'est Fini!

Amid the snow and the cold I have finished my Obelix piece! I must say, I think he turned out splendidly. I am unhappy with the shoes but couldn't really find a much better way to make it work (a random mistake in my stitching meant a few extra stitches/changes here and there) so I will forget my perfectionism for now.

Of course, this means it is high time to start on my Roman piece, aka, a bit of extreme masochism. I love ancient Rome though. I'll be looking for some other images of the ancient world or quotes too. My next high ambition is to find a good piece of Vercingetorix to do - there is some rule in the movies that only extremely handsome men get to play Vercingetorix and having the nice mustache makes them even more handsome, I think! My new goal is to marry someone who's competed in the World Beard and Mustache Championships, actually. Perhaps I could lobby them to start an Ancient Gaul category.

While working on Obelix I've been watching an absolutely hilarious Scottish show called Still Game. I grew up hearing tons of accents and dialects and generally have no problem with British shows (unlike a lot of Americans, sadly). This one is a bit harder because the first three seasons (series) especially have a ton of Glaswegian slang, but I've only had to look things up a couple times. I highly recommend the show though, funniest thing I've seen in ages. Plus, it's helping me work on my accent (I can do Irish accents and all sorts of English dialects - Yorkshire is my favorite, but for some reason Scottish is much harder, probably because you
hear it less).

It's a great source for quotes too, though sadly I only wrote one down so now I'll need to go back and re-watch the show to gather some more. This will almost surely be my next needlework quote piece though: "There's nay disease called Moody Bastarditis."

Or possibly a quote from another British show I finally get to re-watch after seven years or so, A Very Peculiar Practice ("Altered priorities ahead"). It stars one of my favorite actors, a Scotsman, Graham Crowden, who died at 86 a few weeks back, despite managing to look about 90 years old
for the past 30 years. He also starred in the amazingly fabulous Waiting For God.

Friday, December 3, 2010

More Obelix in Progress

Today I drove my very own car for the first time. It's old, a '93 Pontiac Grand Am in that teal color that almost all the '90s Grand Ams were made in. It has a number of problems, but nothing that affects its usefulness to me. I can only drive for ten minutes or so, and some days that's pushing it. All I really want is to be able to get to the YMCA to swim and to have the option of picking up my own prescriptions, getting the occasional grocery item, and perhaps making it to a knitting group or what have you.

This my second car, the first being an old Ford Ranger which had a myriad of problems including a gas gauge that didn't work and gas tank that would only take gas at an extremely slow rate (very frustrating in the winter). So I'm used to cars that are a bit quirky. All I want is for it to get me to the pool and the hot tub.

I would have celebrated by driving about and picking up some sort of food or item that's
usually hard for me to get, but I'd only had two hours of sleep. My dad brought the car here and then flew out to Albany at 6 am, meaning leaving here at 5, meaning up at 4:15, and we'd only gone to bed at 2. Sigh. Tiring. I was half hoping it would snow a lot so my dad would have to stay and visit with me. So I resisted getting a sausage biscuit from Tudor's (the best commercially available sausage biscuit ever) and came home to fall into a fitful rest.
filled character is so different, and so annoying.

Awake, if groggy, I flung myself into working on my Obelix cross-stitch piece. I should mention that I've never done a fully filled piece before. Mostly I just do text with smallish borders.
After Obelix is finished I'll start on my Roman mosaic, much larger than Obelix and much more complex and easy to screw up. What can we do though? I can't do silly quotes forever. I have big cross-stitch dreams that make my hands ache just thinking about it. Obelix is coming along beautifully though, don't you think?

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Send Me Blackwork Flowers Every Morning, Send Me Blackwork Flowers By The Mail...

I love blackwork. I love the designs, I love that it is more flexible than cross-stitch but still sets limits making your stretch your imagination. Of course I never do my blackwork in black thread and about half the time I make designs that use more than one color. My favorite creation so far is a set of flowers I designed myself and practice-stitched in ultra bright thread on black Aida cloth.

So here for your use and enjoyment I post a couple flower designs and a blueberry + leaf design. If you use these designs please credit me and either link back to this blog or my Flickr account. I tend to end up using various half stitches or ending a stitch in the middle of a square, just so you know that those aren't mistakes in the pattern.


I'm also about half-way done with a new cross-stitch pattern. I created this pattern from a picture of the comic book character Obelix. I grew up reading Asterix comics and Obelix was always my favorite character. We had tons and tons of books in our house when I was kid, including nearly all of the Asterix comics. I have vivid memories of looking through them before I could read and wanting so desperately to be able to understand them, to figure out the mystery of these fascinating books. Then once I could read I tore through them, over and over, re-reading a minimum of ten each week and pestering my dad non-stop to translate the Latin phrases and explain the more historical jokes.

Through those comics I developed a life-long love for the history of ancient Rome, Julius Caesar, and the Gallic wars. I read biographies and histories, watched documentaries, and above all I daydreamed. I live in West Virginia, my mother's family all lived in Texas and New Mexico so we took two and three day drives twice a year. Much of that time I spent lost in wild daydreams of myself as a Roman Centurion in Caesar's thirteenth legion, battling the Gauls at Gergovia and Alesia.

It was inevitable that I would one day embroider those characters, starting with Obelix. I love how he's turning out so far. There are some details you can't see here, blackwork accents to be added about the color (mostly in the shoes, which look icky without the color and those details). In general though I think it is tres Obelix.