New creative obsession: Painted plaid

bright painted plaid

I haven’t been posting lately because I’ve developed a new obsession: painted plaid. A fashion trend, painted plaid seems to be trickling down and popping up lots of places. I am delighted by the softness, the regular irregularity, the nuanced colors. So I decided to give fabric plaid painting a try. I bought a few yards of habotabi silk, a brush, and a few bottles of silk paint, and got to work.

bright colors, 2 scales, painted plaid

I’ve been experimenting with scale and strong colors.

soft silk painted plaid

I’ve been experimentaing with softer, more muted colors and leaving unpainted spaces.

painted plaid in purples

And I’ve tried some colors in between.

Variation of color combinations, scale and rhythm of the lines makes pattern possibilities feel endless. Everytime I work on one, ideas of future patterns and projects fill my head. Its heady, exhillarating, irresistible.

Some of these swatches are so small, I’m not sure what I’ll make with them. Others are large enough I might hem them for scarves. Safe to say that friends and family might see some variations popping up at Christmas time.

Its also safe to say that that as the busy season between Thanksgving and Christmas rolls around, I won’t be posting much, but I’ll hope to get caught up in the new year.. Happy Thanksgiving, my American friends and readers, and happy December to everyone else!

Etsy Love: square landscape by Megan Gray Arts

painting by Megan Gray

“Foggy Marsh” painting by Megan Gray

If you know me and this blog, you know I’m a big fan of etsy. So it was a thrill last week, to learn that one of my instagram connections, Megan Gray of Megan Gray Arts re-interpreted one of my instagram photos in an oil painting, which is now, you guessed it, for sale on etsy. You can view all of her work for sale on etsy here, and visit her blog here. And here is my instagram photo from last summer.

Foggy mornings are my favorite.

A photo posted by Elizabeth (@ehpyle) on

I think her paining turned out beautifully, and I’ve often thought that if I were a painter I would be inspired by instagram. Maybe it would be a bit much to call myself a muse, but I’m delighted to see my photo turned into art, nonetheless.

Halloween craft: eeire orbs

yarn ballooons for halloween

With Halloween on the way, its been a crafty time at my house. We’ve been working on costumes, decorating and generally enjoying the season of spookiness.

We also made these orbs out of webbed yarn. Inspired by pinterest, these yarn balloons were super-easy to make. I took cotton yarn, dipped it in paper mache paste made from elmer’s glue, water, and some flour, and wrapped it around balloons. After letting them dry for a few days, I poked holes in the balloons and gently deflated them, while making sure to unstick the yarn from the balloon.

deflating balloon

Thorough instructions can be found on Instructables, but really there’s not much to this project. Only be sure to use 100% cotton yarn, no matter how tempting a sparkly or hairy synthetic yarn might seem. The synthetics just don’t hold the shape once the balloon is deflated. Trust me, I know this from experience.

I liked the simplicity of the orbs on their own, but my children had other ideas. They wanted to add cobwebs, spiders, skeletons. You know, make them spookier, kookier, more eerie. I confess to a few judicious edits of their adornments before hanging them above our kitchen table and taking this final photo. Happy Halloween, my friends in the blogosphere!

yarn.balloons.all

 

Beginner’s Bargello

multi color modern bargello

I’m really excited about my newest finished needlepoint piece.

When I started this canvas in September, I was planning to make another geometric needlepoint purse, but none of my plans or patterns worked out. One seemed too heavy and dark, the other seemed too small and boring. So I scratched my plans and tried something completely different – bargello.

I’d been eyeing bargello needlepoint for years. There is something appealing and mathematical about it, like an M.C. Escher drawing, it draws you in and along, moving your eye through it.

I’d also been eyeing these modern-looking bargello pillows at Jonathan Adler. But of course, its one thing to admire something, but its another thing to try and re-create it. After a few false starts and repeated picking out of those erroneous stitches, I settled on an asymmetrical design I charted on a piece of graph paper. Next, I went to my bins of stashed yarn, pulled out heaps of colors.

jumble of needlepoint yarn

My final pattern consists of 5 and 3 block high bands, which move only in one direction – diagonally down, from right to left. It was only later that I read that the traditional Bargello unit is 4 stitches high. I stitched bands of 2-3 shades of the same color mixed together in a random order. I tried to put complimentary colors (e.g., purple and yellow, red and green) beside one another to highlight the transition between bands of color.

close up modern bargello

 

Of course, all this randomness requires careful organization and the bulk of my mental energy went into planning a sequence of colors that was consistently inconsistent. In the end, I was not so free and haphazard with color as I might have liked. While not being a repeating pattern, my piece comes very close – it is not quite consistent, i.e., consistently inconsistent.

P1030776

I’m thrilled with my first attempt at bargello and I’m starting to understand the deep appeal it seems to have for many needlework ladies. Maybe next time, I’ll try something multi-directional, closer to this waves pattern pillow. But for now, all that’s left is to decide what to make of it: another purse? a lumbar pillow? any other ideas?

multi color bargello

Printing Project: Soap Bubbles

IMG_2979

I was thinking about bubbles a lot this past summer. In addition to blowing colored bubbles with my kids, I also made a bubble inspired silkscreen.

EZ print bubblesFor the first time, I used an EZ print screen. It certainly was quicker, lighter, and easier to manouever than the wood framed screens I’ve tried in the past, though I think I managed to scrub mine too hard in between printings and destroyed the screen. Somehow it seems fitting that a screen of something so ephemeral as soap bubbles should be short lived itself.

printed bubble towel

Once again, I printed on small hand/ kitchen towels, though I used cotton, rather than linen this time. I felt like soap bubbles print needed to be printed on something more utilitarian, something that could be used in a kitchen.

soap bubble tea towel

I wrapped a few up for my little sister for her birthday. The rest are wrapped up to be presented as a hostess gift this weekend, and so as I really, finally say good bye to summer, I say good bye to the last remnants of this bubbly summer project.

wrapped soap bubble towels

Botanical embroidery project

embroidery floss, WIP

Last week, I wrote about the beautiful needlework of Gerda Bengtsson. This week, I’m sharing my own copy of one of her designs – embroidery of a bedstraw, or Galium plant.

galium embroidery

Most Galium are wild, frothy, unassuming plants. Their beauty lies in delicate arching branches, leaves that cluster around the stem in whorls, and dainty white or green flowers. Some species can be quite weedy and others, like sweet woodruff (Galium odoratum) are both ornamental and medicinal.

This embroidery by Gerda Bengtsson captures the beauty of Galium saxatile growing in a flat form. (It comes from Gerda Bengtsson’s book of Danish Stitchery, published in 1972.) The black and white photos probably don’t do justice to her work, but this project still seemed timeless and appealing to me.

tracing galium

To embroider my own version, I scanned the image from the book, printed it, and then traced the original shape. Since I enlarged the design a bit, I modified in some spots and had made most of the branches shorter.

transfering galium design

I then used a hot iron, transfer pen and tracing paper to transfer the design on to some white linen. Since the design was larger than the 8.5″ by 11” transfer paper, I had to improvise with stapling sheets together and my transfer was a bit light in some places. (Note to self: pin the transfer paper down carefully before ironing.)

embroidery work in process

I stitched away, filling the leaves in with satin stitch and tracing the stems with stem stitch.

It was a big project and took a few months. Over time, my transfer ink began to fade, eventually becoming non-existent. By the end of the project, I’d done enough of these stems and leaves that I was fine just making up where to stitch.

I tried to vary the shades of green, with the tips of the growing branches and leaves stitched in lighter shades. Overall, I’m pretty delighted with the outcome, though I have no idea what I’ll make out of it. Cushion? Wall hanging? If you have any ideas, I’m all ears!

overview galium embroidery

 

 

The godmother of botanical needlework

Gerda Bentgesson from Danish stitchery book

Wall hanging by Gerda Bengtsson, from Gerda Bengtsson’s Book of Danish Stitchery

As some of you know, I studied botany as a graduate student. I spent hours pouring over plant specimens, flipping through dichotomous keys, and learning terms like “stipules.” There were nights when my dreams were filled with swirling leaf shapes, fragile rootlets, and constellations of flowers.

Now, I dream of others things, but I have retained a love of plant forms. These shapes sometimes inspire my creative projects, but for true, breathtaking, botanically inspired work, I consult the books of Gerda Bengtsson. Published in the 1970’s and 1980’s her books are mostly out of print, but still, easy to find.

GB.rosamoyesii

Rosa Moyesii by Gerda Bengtsson. From Roses and Flowering Plants in counted cross-stitch.

Like 18th and 19th century botanical prints, Bengtsson’s designs show specific knowledge of plants and convey appreciation for the varieties of plant form. Yet, they are pretty and decorative.

GB.couluteaarborescens

Senna by Gerda Bengtsson. From Roses and Flowering branches in counted cross-stitch

Flowers and plants are often generic and stylized in needlework, however beautiful. In contrast, Bengtsson’s designs are botanically correct, but also balanced and artistic.

Mountain Ash by Gerda Bentgsson. From Dye PLants nad Fruits in Cross -stitch

Mountain Ash by Gerda Bengtsson. From Dye Plants and Fruits in Cross -stitch

Bengtsson worked mostly in cross-stitch, but much of her published work consists of charted designs that could also be used for needlepoint, and other mediums.

In my mind, Gerda Bengtsson is the godmother of all botanical needlework. When I tried to do a little online research, I didn’t find much. From her books I know she trained as a painter and later switched to textiles. She was also part of the Danish Handcraft guild.  My research did turn up a great pinterest board and many of her designs are available in cross stitch kits here.

Since I’m not much for cross-stitch, I mostly just pour over her books and swoon, but I did recently complete a Bentgesson-inspired embroidery piece. I’ll tell you about that in my next post.

Round the world blog hop

Earlier this week, I was thrilled to receive a gentle, non-binding invitation to participate in a “round the world blog hop” from Catherine at Knotted Cotton. I greatly enjoyed reading what she had to say in response to the blog hop questions, so I decided to join in. Its taken me a while to get to it, but here I am now, ready to yammer on about myself.

 Where I live or have lived.

I live in Boston, which is known for its many universities (e.g., Harvard), aggressive drivers and unconventional street lay-outs. I love it here, though I still consider myself to be an outsider, despite 18 years of living here.

IMG_5265

I am from further south, the rural and beautiful eastern shore of Maryland. I still miss it sometimes: flat open farmland, hot, hot summers, and the whirr of summer cicadas.

IMG_5657

What am I working on

After a spring needlework hiatus, I am embroidering some linen with a botanically inspired design. I am so excited to be close to finishing I almost hesitate to share it, since I will post the whole project once I am done. Here is a preview:

embroidery work in process

How my work differs from others in its genre

I’m not even sure what “my work” is since I am more of a dabbler and a hack. Needlepoint, silkscreen printing, sewing, embroidery, fabric stamping…. I love making things and I’m still just finding my way.

Why I write/create

I cannot imagine NOT making things.

How my creative process works

I keep a notebook of ideas and sketches. When I want to start a new project, I usually think about it for a few days while I’m doing other things. (Dishes, driving, brushing my teeth.) When I find a clear hour or two, I jump right in. No time for step by step plans – I’ve got four kids!

I used to try to keep notes on project steps, but I would get busy working, excited to see something come together, and I would stop writing at about step two. Having this blog helps me remember to slow down and document my process a bit more. I like having that incentive.

sketchbook

So there it is… a bit about me. Now, in the blog hop ‘rules’ its time for me to pass the torch to a few others. I’m going to follow Catherine’s example and recommend a few blogs I enjoy:  fan my flamebook nookart as it happensWeekend Doings.  I’ll also follow Anny’s example and invite any and all of you, dear readers, to pick up the blog hop torch and tell us all about yourselves and your creative process, whether it be writing, photos, or something crafty. Do share, my bloggy friends!

Williamsburg Embroidery

my favorite patriot

If we’re connected on social media, you’ll know that I recenty visited Colonial Williamsburg with my favorite eight-year-old patriot and one of his older brothers, who prefers to remain more anonymous.

George Wythe House

George Wythe House

In case you’ve never heard of Colonial Williamsburg, its a non-profit organization and outdoor living history museum consisting of 18th century shops, homes, gardens, out buildings, taverns, government buildings. As capitol of the Virginia colonies in the 1700’s, Williamsburg was a hot bed of political activity before, during and after the American Revolution. Yes, George Washington undoubtedly slept there. Thomas Jefferson too.

Capitol building, Williamsburg

Capitol building, Williamsburg

Today, Colonial Williamsburg is populated with a staff of historically attired re-enactors who work, play, and intrigue in the 18th century style – discussing politics, cooking meals, forming militias, selling 18th century goods in shops, and crafting all manner of 18th century essentials, like wigs, tin cups, and wooden barrels. Every day, at 10am, they storm the Governor’s Palace, and there’s Revolution in the Streets at noon.

My little patriot got to try his hand at kitchen chores, military training, and 18th century children’s games. We all got to see shoes constructed by a cobbler, spoons hammered out by a silver smith, and watch an outdoor performance of Moliere’s Scapin that was so inventive and silly that it held my 8 year old’s attention.

work in progress at the milliner's shop

work in progress at the milliner’s shop

Above all, my favorite Williamsburg activity was our trip to the Milliner’s shop, where they were working on embroidery projects. I dragged my little patriot there early one morning, while his elder brother slept in.

Thankfully, even 18th century stores are prepared to keep children entertained while their mothers browse. A kind seamstress (milliner’s apprentice?!) pulled out a basket of historically correct children’s activities. They embarked on a reproduction puzzle of the monarchs of England, from William I (1066 -ish) to George III (1770 -ish).

I was so busy asking questions and gawking at the embroidery projects, that I didn’t take nearly enough photos, and neglected to document the good ladies’ names.  Yet here are some of the hand made needlework projects I saw there.

A wool pocket book, suitable for 18th century men and women, edged with wool tape, and lined with linen, with rag paper in between to add structure and stiffness. I love the scalloped edge of the top flap and the way it closes with ties.

Case for spectacles, line with wool and leather and hand-stitched with a awl.

Case for spectacles, lined with wool and leather and hand-stitched with an awl.

Likewise, this spectacle case is edged in wool tape and closes with ties, but it was made with a leather inside to help hold the shape and prtect those precious spectacles.

I also learned about bone thread winders, knotting shuttles, and a lucet. I negleted to take photos of the beautiful crewel works in progress, the embroidered silk handbag on display, or how to use the lucet to make squared silk cord. But I did emerge with an book recommendation: 18th Century Embroidery Techniques by Gail Marsh

18th century embroidery techniques

I’ve just borrowed a copy from my local library and I’m enthralled. Who knew that “pattern-drawer” was an occupation in the 18th century? Doubtless the ladies of the milliner’s shop did, but now I do too. I don’t plan on stitching any spangled waistcoats, but if I do, I’ll have the Colonial Williamsburg staff to thank, and you’ll be the first to hear about it.

Folly Cove Designers and the Sarah Elizabeth Shop

folly cove solomon's seal

Solomon Seal by Margaret Nelson. From the Cape Ann Museum.

One of the places I had planned to visit during my month on Boston’s north shore was the Cape Ann Museum. The Cape Ann Museum holds the largest collection of work by the Folly Cove Designers, a group of local designer-artisans who produced stunning lino-cut block prints from 1938-1969.

Round Robin by Eleanor Curtis

Round Robin by Eleanor Curtis. From the Cape Ann Museum.

Led by children’s book author and illustrator, Virginia Lee Burton, the Folly Cove designers printed and sold many household textiles like placements, table runners, and napkins. Originals have become quite collectible.

NattiLK_gulls.jpg.500x310_q85

Gulls by Lee Kingman Natti. From the Cape Ann Museum.

The Folly Cove designers’ work is vibrant and dynamic and filled with inspiration from local nature – New England plants, birds,  lighthouses, and fishermen. The balance of design and detail is mesmersizing.

Conventional Flower by Louise Kenyon. From the Cape Ann Museum.

Conventional Flower by Louise Kenyon. From the Cape Ann Museum.

When I showed up at the Cape Ann Museum, only to discover it closed for renovation until late August, I was disappointed to say the least. But lucky for me, I came across the Sarah Elizabeth Shop, in nearby Rockport.

Sarah Elizabeth Shop 3

The Sarah Elizabeth Shop is the inheritor of the Folly Cove Designers. It was founded in the early 1970’s by Sarah Elizabeth Halloran, a long time member of the Folly Cove Designers guild, and has been passed down twice, first to Isabel Natti, and later to the current proprieter, Julia Garrison who continues to print and sell Folly Cove, Halloran’s, Natti’s, and her own designs. (You can read a more complete history of the store on the website.)
Sarah Elizabeth Shop 2

It’s a charming shop packed with locally produced pillows, table runners, placements, cards, and more, all printed with original artwork, using the antique Acorn press used by the Folly Cove designers. Designs range from bold and playful nautical New England themes, to softer, more abstract repeating prints on natural linen.

Sarah Elizabeth shop printing blocks

What a thrill it was to peruse all these wonderful prints. What fun it as to see the linoleum blocks lined up along the wall. Of course I came home with more than a few.

from sarah eliz shop

If you’re far away and fear you’ll never make it near Rockport, Massachusetts, don’t fret! The Sarah Elizabeth shop also sells printed textiles via etsy. So no matter where you are, you can procure yourself a piece of New England art for the home.