Thursday, January 26, 2012

A finishing primer

Few things are more exciting and rewarding to a stitcher than putting in those last stitches and finishing a piece.

Unless, of course, it's picking up your finished piece from the framer.

I got to do that last week and was pleasantly surprised to see it look even better than I had anticipated. My Southwestern Pots stitching came alive with the colors of the double mats and frame, carefully chosen by Sandy, a professional framer at the Attic Needlework shop in Mesa.

It's not an easy job to select the right combination for the framing of your piece. And what makes it difficult is that there are so many wonderful color combinations and choices available. If you find a framer with much experience and an artistic flair, one who can suggest techniques you would never have thought possible, you have a real treasure.

I highly recommend framing your work at a needlework specialty shop. They are in business for their love of the art and know how to frame fiber arts. Believe me, not every framer does.

Or find a good frame shop and question them to determine if they know the proper way to frame fabric. Do not assume that they do.  What is their technique? Do they press and prepare the fabric for framing or do you need to bring it in ready?

I have a good method, passed on to me by my sister, Edie, for "freeze-drying" your finished piece. It involves washing it with a fine fabric wash (as you might use for hosiery) or a drop of Dawn detergent. Lay it on a towel and roll to remove excess moisture, then put it in the freezer for a short time. Then remove and press with an iron, pressing on the wrong side of the fabric.

I always bring my piece in ready to be framed; that is, clean and rolled in tissue around a paper-towel cardboard roll. Some bring pieces in all crumpled and leave it to the framer to prepare.

If I am trying to match my piece to colors in a room, I bring in a sofa pillow, a scrap of carpeting or a paint sample.  When you start looking at the hundreds of hues available for mats and frames, it's easy to become confused. You don't want to rely on your memory or resort to guesswork at that point.

I also avoid places such as arts and crafts shops as they often have part-time sales clerks doubling as framing "consultants." They may also use inferior products while advertising deep discounts for them. At the point of framing your piece, you have invested too much time (and love) in the creation to let it be spoiled by poor finishing.

It's not always necessary to use glass in framed pieces. If it is a relatively small piece, involves beads, or texture, I want the look of fabric without the glass to spoil it.  In a larger piece, I usually use UV non-glare glass. There is also museum-quality glass; expensive, but you can hardly see there's glass at all. It is often well worth the investment.

Don't compromise on the finishing of a piece after you've labored to make it so beautiful. Your handwork should be a lasting treasure.

Above all, enjoy the creating. I have started pieces that turned out to be frustrating and a work of labor, not a work of love. That's the point at which I "chuck" it! I do needlework for the sheer enjoyment of it, like reading a good book you can't put down.  When I can hardly wait to get back to a piece, and can hardly stand to put it down, I know I've got a good thing.

And the happy ending is the finished product.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

It's a bodkin

What's a bodkin?

Well, besides being the name of a rock group (for real), the little silver tool I couldn't for the life of me identify - or even imagine its use - is called a bodkin.

Yep, I have it on good authority.

First, my sister, Edie, called.  "I think what you have there is a bodkin," says she, a long-time needleworker with an online sampler business, McIntosh Samplers, specializing in counted cross-stitch reproduction antique samplers, books on historical needlework, and quality needlework accessories.

I should have known to consult her first.

"Okay," I replied. "But what does one do with a bodkin?"

She suggested I Google it to learn more, but added she's pretty sure that's what it is and that a bodkin is a centuries-old tool, used primarily for drawstrings, and that there are very fancy decorative ones made of wood, ivory, and so forth.

In addition to a stitching tool, according to Wikipedia, they were used as personal adornments. In the 1600s, artist Wenzel Hollar (1607-1677), did a famous etching of a woman with a bodkin in her hair.

In my example, the one from my mother's collection of stitching tools, the bodkin has two "eyes" - one at each end. But more commonly, they have only one eye and the opposite end is finished, rounded, or sometimes embellished with decorative carvings or jewels.

I took my little tool to The Attic, my favorite needlework store in Mesa. It's actually the only needlework store in Mesa, but that's beside the point. Needlework stores are a dying breed and are closing left and right. So sad.

Anyway...I asked needlework expert, Sandy, if she knew what this tool is.

"Of course," she replied instantly. "It's a bodkin."

She described its use, saying you would need one mainly to make drawstring bags or purses. You would, she explained,  thread one end with ribbon or cording, insert it into the opening, and draw it through to the other end, moving it along as you go.

"Most needleworkers would have one," she continued.

Hmmm, I thought. Not sure when I would actually use a bodkin.

But isn't it great to know I have one?

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Tools of the trade

Everyone who has a craft or hobby has tools.

Card makers, scrapbookers, knitters, stitchers, bikers, woodworkers, even readers, all have tools.

Here are some tools I use for my stitching. They are ones any stitcher would have.

A really good, sharp scissors, a stitch ruler, magnetic needle
finder, needle holder, a needle threader, scissors case

There are stitching web sites with tools available you probably never knew you needed. Or that even existed.

Here is a "mystery tool." Do you know what it is? Or what it might be used for?

What is this?

It is a metal 3-inch piece with oval holes on each end.

If you're waiting for the answer, it won't be coming from me. I have no idea what this is. But I do know it is a stitching tool as it was in my Mom's collection and she gave it to me long ago. She had no idea what it was either, or how or where she acquired it. She just had it tucked away in her collection, and when she gave it to me, I tucked it away in mine.

If you can solve this mystery, please let me know.

Another tool I use is a magnetic board to keep the pattern in place. And then I mark off stitches as they are done with a yellow highlighter. This pattern calls for so many slightly varying shades of the same color that I would be lost if I didn't mark off the stitches as they're done.

I never use the original pattern but rather I photocopy it and work from the copy. Why?  If I make a mistake (heaven forbid), or mis-mark it, I can re-photocopy the original again and start over. And if I share the pattern, or want to make it again, I always have the original intact.

My favorite "tool" of all is my wooden frame. Many stitchers prefer the feel of the fabric in their hands, especially if working on linen.  Since I usually use Aida 16- or 18-count fabric, I like having it held taut and not touching it.  I don't usually wash my finished piece, as recommended, because after being on the frame, it doesn't need laundering.

You can see where I am on this piece. The bars can be lowered or raised as the pattern progresses. A few stitches are visible from the bottom of the piece before the bars were raised to work on the top of the piece.  The fabric will be raised again before it's completed.

I work from the bottom up which is contrary to what most stitchers are taught to do (upper left side or middle, working down). I don't know why I do this, only that I started out that way, and you know what they say about teaching an old dog new tricks!

Discovering new tools is fun, and looking through the latest Nordic Needle catalog is a favorite pastime. Always on the lookout for a new tool I really need!

Years ago, sometime in the mid-1970s, I told my mother I could never do counted-thread work. I was working on a stamped cross stitch piece (perish the thought, now that I've become a snob).

So she bought me a kit that included the fabric, pattern and floss needed and started me out. I saw how easy it was (with a simple pattern) and I got hooked. From there, I was brave enough to tackle a bit more challenging pattern, and have been stitching ever since.

If you have never tried counted thread work, I encourage you to try it and hope this inspires you.

Happy Stitching!

Monday, January 9, 2012

Gone from our sight

My beautiful mother passed away quietly in the early morning hours of December 29, my sister, Christine, taking her turn by her side.

The ensuing days are a bit of a blur. Arrangements were made, things somehow got done. Words of comfort and the love of family and friends surrounded us and kept us going.

My mother was a nurturer of relationships far and wide. And so from as far away as Denmark, Sweden and Norway, we heard from cousins and friends, providing flowers, cards, and phone calls, sharing memories of her many visits to her ancestral homeland along with words of kindness, sympathy and cheer.

My nephew, Josh, read the following verse, written by Henry Van Dyke, at the funeral service. It was found in a booklet the hospice team provided for us. It brought us comfort then and now, these days of mourning, reminding us that she is gone only from our sight. She lives on in our hearts and in all we do as her children.

I am standing upon the seashore. A ship, at my side spreads her white sails to the moving breeze and starts for the blue ocean. She is an object of beauty and strength.
I stand and watch her until, at length, she hangs like a speck of white cloud just where the sea and sky come to mingle with each other. Then, someone at my side says,

"There, she is gone."   Gone where? Gone from my sight. That is all.
She is just as large in mast, hull and spar as she was when she left my side. And, she is just as able to bear her load of living freight to her destined port. Her diminished size is in me, not in her. And, just at the moment when someone says, "There, she is gone," there are other eyes watching her coming, and other voices ready to take up the glad shout,
"Here she comes!"

And so heaven welcomed her that wintry morning, and we rejoiced at her homecoming. Only sad for us, not for her. She is exactly where she wanted to be, in the arms of Jesus. She kept her eyes on her goal those eight long days at the hospital, until the time was just right.

Never wavering. Never doubting. Nothing left undone, nothing left unsaid, in this world.

So we say, "So long for now, Mom."  But just for now.