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.

August break: painting by bubbles

Every August, we head to the coast north of Boston, to spend a few weeks at the beach.  Since we don’t have much planned, I always troll through pinterest when packing, and plan a few portable crafty projects to do with my children. So far, this year, we’ve only managed to try painting by bubbles, and it was a wild success.

To paint by bubbles, we added a few drops of food coloring to bottles of bubble solution, rolled out some plain paper, weighed the corners of the paper down with rocks, and then blew the colored bubbles onto the paper.

coloring bubbles

bubble painting

When the bubbles pop, they leave a ring of color. And, as the drips and rings of color build up on the paper, it creates an effect similar to marbleized paper.

bubble painting 1

bubble painting 2

More gratifyingly, bubble painting is flexible and open-ended. It engendered free play, experimenting, and creative problem solving. Once we set it up, my children took over, adding colors to the bubble solution, experimenting the direction at techniques for blowing the bubbles, observing wind direction, types of bubbles, effects of layering colors on the paper.

Before we started, I harbored fantasies of saving the resulting bubble-painted paper and using it for wrapping paper or some other crafty project, but it truth, the colors faded after a few days and the results were uneven.  No doubt there is a way to do bubble painting with a beautiful end product in mind, but in this case, we just enjoyed the process. Process over product.

How to use masking in fabric stamping

printed frens on tea towel

I’ve been printing again! It all started on a visit to my mother’s house in woodsy Maine where I caught site of a fern printed tea towel I made for her last summer. With a thrill of recognition, I thought, Hey that’s not quite so bad looking as I remember… I kind of even like it! So I decided to try it again.

hand carved fern stamp

I used stamps I carved from “speedy-carve” material last year, but I had to relearn how to use a technique called masking in order to create the look of overlapping leaves. This time, I took a few pictures to document the process and I’ll share a bit below. I learned mostly by watching about 1000 you tube videos – some good, some bad, but none standing out as exceptional. I also learned through a lot of trial an error.

First, I used ink pads and stamped out the design on paper to make a template for printing the entire design. I lightly spray glued this template to a piece of cardboard. Then, before laying the fabric over the template, I lightly spray glued it again and let it dry until it was tacky. I then smoothed the fabric out on top (see photo above). The template showed through the fabric, guiding me where to stamp in order to to replicate the design. Next, I stamped the “top” ferns on (see second photo above).

I made a paper to mask these “top” ferns by (1) stamping the design on paper again, and (2)  cutting around the stamp shape, cutting especially close where I knew the designs would touch. After cutting, I sprayed the paper lightly with a acrylic spray so it wouldn’t disintegrate with too many uses. After the “top” ferns dried, I placed the mask on top to prevent any new ink from landing on the areas that had already been stamped.

fabric stamping

Finally, I used the same stamp, this time inked in a slightly different shade of green, to stamp the “bottom” ferns on. Notice how the stamp lands partly on the masking paper, which blocks the areas that have already been printed. Also notice that I used painter’s tape to attach the blocking paper to the fabric – I don’t even remember doing that. Masking makes ferns appear to be overlapping without stamps being printed on top of one another.

hand stamped ferns

This time around, I’m thrilled by this little stampy project. Maybe its just that my learning curve was not quite as steep as it was last summer. Maybe being able to do it faster meant I didn’t get sick of looking at those ferny leaves. Maybe I’ve just learned no to focus so much on the flaws in my own work. Whatever the reason, it was a pleasure to revisit those ferns and think about those Maine woods.

ferns in maine woods

Paper circle garlands

Photo and paper circle garland by pomtree - click for link

Photo and paper circle garland by pomtree – click for link

I’d been eying these paper circle garlands on pinterest for a while. So, this weekend, when we welcomed one of our sons home from sleep away camp, I decided to use some to decorate.

They were super simple to make: cut circles from paper, then stitch. (Look here for a really great tutorial.) Or, if you’d rather just buy some handmade paper circle garlands on etsy, look here or here.

jumbled garland

Since I spaced the circles a bit too far apart, I did struggle a bit with keeping the garlands from getting tangled up in themselves. So, when I discovered that my husband had taken the garlands down without my supervision, I gasped in horror, imagining a heap of tangled thread and paper circles. What I discovered instead, was his very simple solution to the problem: a clip. Bravo, dear husband!

stacked garland

I know I could do better if I did it again (less thread, more circles) but it was altogether a fun and easy project.

P.S. If you’re a pinterest user, I’d love to connect with you there! Here’s where you can find me. 

Hello, new blog graphics!

design your own graphics

I have a new header on my blog! I am obscenely thrilled by this. The pleasure I feel with this infinitesimal change is completely out of proportion with the change itself. Why? Because I made this new header myself.

I know what you’re thinking: It looks almost the same as the old one. Or, maybe you’re thinking: I can’t remember what the old one looked like. Or maybe you’re just wondering what a header is.

Rather than repost the old half-baked header, let’s just say my new header is cleaner and more professional than the old one I cobbled together using powerpoint. My new header is the real deal. And, did I mention I made it myself?

I made it using Canva. Canva?! What is Canva? Canva is a graphic design hack’s dream. It allows those of us with poor graphic design software skills to make graphics that look, well, pretty darn professional. (I learned about it from Abby Glassenberg at While She Naps and I’m hoping to try out some of her many other great tips of graphic design sometime soon.)

On the Canva website, you can assemble graphics using their templates and design elements. You can upload your own photos. You can drag elements around and tweak sizes and colors to your heart’s content. DIY for the digital world.

My first project was to make myself a business card. Why a business card? I have no idea. Who actually uses business cards these days? But here’s what I made:

I only wish I had been able to make the project photos into circles instead of squares. Circle photos are trendy, plus they would have looked better with my circle logo on the front. (Psst! Hey, Canva peeps, did you hear that?!)

I even printed some of my cards up at moo.com I just couldn’t resist seeing how the photo part would print. The answer: beautifully. Now I have 47 business cards I need to dispose of. If any of you readers want one, just say the word.

canva created card

My next project was to make my new header. For this, I created a custom size graphic (885pixels by 252pixels, as recommended by WordPress for this theme). I tried many photos, backgrounds, text boxes, but in the end, I uploaded my own photo of linen, added simple text and viola! New header:

cropped-bottle-branch-header-simple.png

The resulting header is worlds better than the old one. I know if I took the time to develop real skills and use real software, I could make even more customized and special graphics. I could definitely make circular photos. But for now I’m pretty happy to have Canva – it offers the thrill of creating something in the digital world without the frustration of learning new software.

Disclaimer: No, I did not receive any thing for this post (or for anything) from Canva or from Moo.com. I’m just enthusiastic.

July is the month for blueberries

beetsandcarrots

I haven’t been posting much about my garden this summer. In truth, its been a little disappointing. In June, rabbits chewed my zinnias down to twigs, munched my dahlias, and decapitated my yarrow. The spinach bolted before it had any leaves to harvest. I even managed to sow carrots over beets. I just didn’t have the heart to pull them out, so there they are, growing together.

And yet, I’m still making plans and planting. I’m still scheming and dreaming about what I’ll do next in my yard. Just this week, we’ve planted a blueberry patch with a few high bush and low bush blueberry plants, both native to New England.

When I worked as a biologist, I sometimes worked in a wetland* which was filled with blueberries during the month of July. On breaks, my co-workers and I would stand in our rubber boots, calf-deep in water and muck, and devour blueberries. We used to collect, bring home and freeze buckets of blueberries. We used to move noisily through the bog* lest we startle the black bear known to loiter and gobble blueberries by the pawful.

I’m not expecting any black bears to show up in my own little blueberry patch, but I am thrilled to be creating a naturalized thicket in my yard. I’m looking forward to puttering and tending these new shrubs. I hoping to enjoy some berries straight off the plant. That is, assuming the rabbits don’t get them first.

high bush blueberry

not quite ripe yet!

 

*technically it was a fen, a specific type of wetland, but I didn’t want to go all biology geek on you. Thats a side of me better left out of the blogosphere.

 

Beets, beets, and more beets

beet print

Print by Haley Polinsky – click to see etsy listing

It seems I am not the only person who uses beets as a motif/inspiration/subject matter. My recent etsy search revealed beet linocut prints (see above), beet napkins, beet notebooks, beet onsies, and even other beet inspired tea towels.

notebook by burdock and bramble - click to see their etsy shop

notebook by burdock and bramble – click to see etsy listing

root vegetable tea towel by Jenna Rose - click for etsy listing

root vegetable tea towel by Jenna Rose – click for etsy listing

Nor am I the only person who loves beets. Many thanks to all of you beet lovers and blog friends who left comments on and thus entered the drawing for last week’s beet tea towel giveaway. Its truly a delight to receive each comment – thank you, thank you, thank you! I hate having to choose only one winner! But I did (using a random number generator as in my last giveaway) and entry #6, Britt, is the winner! Congratulations, Britt, this little scrap of linen is coming your way.

beets tea towel