Sustainability, oceans, and artist Jo Atherton

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I’ve been thinking a lot about this recently published study on the proliferation of plastic debris in oceans. News organizations have touted “five grocery bags of trash on every foot of coastline around the globe” and the fact that plastic has been found all over the ocean, from the deep sea to Arctic ice.

I’ve also been thinking about Jo Atherton, creator of “flotsam weaving” from washed up fishing line, netting, balloons, lobster pot tags, army men, and other plastic trinkets she and her helpers find on the coast of Cornwall in the U.K. Her work is clever, beautiful, and powerful. Her contemplation of the weaving together disparate objects and their histories, the longevity of plastic trinkets, and the global problem of marine debris is even better.

  Watch Jo Atherton’s TEDx talk here

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P.S. If you don’t know me in person, you might not know that I worked many years in environmental science, studying carbon sequestration in forest ecosystems. Even today, I can be downright annoying in my zeal for composting. So, yes I have a history of being environmental-ish, but I promise I won’t preach too much here on my blog.

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 post shared 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.

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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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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.)
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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.

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. 

Beets, beets, and more beets

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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.

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A summer screenprint and a giveaway!

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Last summer, when my children were squared away in day camp for a few weeks, I decided to teach myself some printing techniques.  I had been admiring beautiful hand-printed tea towels on etsy and felt a persistent itch to try it myself.

I tried out a few different techniques and one of my successful projects was this wild oats print, made by screen print.

To teach myself, I watched what felt like a thousand youtube video tutorials. I wish I could point to one particularly helpful tutorial, but none stood out, though several were helpful. In the end, the clear, step-by-step instructions in the book Print Liberation helped the most.  Plus, the book is edgy enough that it made me feel just a tiny bit hip.

After creating my screen using a photo emulsion technique, I printed on newsprint, I printed on scraps of old sheets and finally, I printed on linen tea towels I had ordered online. None of my prints were perfect but most were satisfying to create.

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I printed these wild oats in perky spring green and some in a beautiful fall golden yellow, which some how escaped my camera. I washed, dried, ironed, folded and packed them away to be presents.

Now that Christmas is over, I have officially given them all away… except for one, which I now offer to send to a randomly drawn winner. To enter to win this 100% linen, hand printed tea towel, please leave a comment below. I’ll pick a winner next Friday, January 17th. On the off chance that I don’t actually know you in person or Facebook, please make sure you include your email address in the comment form so I can contact you. (It won’t appear online.) I’m pretty sure the competition will be sparse so give it a try! I can tell you from experience it’s a thrill to win a blog giveaway, no matter what the stakes. (Thanks, Kate at book nook!)

I’ll be posting a few more of my summer printing projects soon, though I can’t promise any more giveaways. In the meantime, my wild oats screen rests in the basement, waiting patiently until next summer.

P.S. I had to include this last photo too. In addition to printing, I was experimenting with staging photos a lot last summer. Those were peonies from my garden. I can hardly belive how dreamy they look! I can hardly wait to get back in the garden!

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Out with the old and in with the new.

I learned many domestic crafts as a child — the basics of sewing, knitting, and needlepoint, but I never learned much about embroidery.  Nor did I particularly want to learn embroidery… until recently. After poking around on Pinterest, Etsy, and Carina’s Craft Blog, I became interested in and quickly obsessed with trying embroidery.

But I needed a few tools to get started. Rather than hint vigorously to my husband about what to buy, I decided to put a few embroidery basics under the tree for myself.

Two weeks later, with a copy of Doodle Stitching, by Aimee Ray, and a hoop, needles, transfer tools, and floss from Sublime Stitching, I started my first project – this embroidered ribbon.

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Typically, I become overambitious with new projects, but I managed to keep this one small and simple. Following a pattern in Aimee Ray’s book, I stitched this sweet vine and flower on a grey cotton ribbon.  I have no idea what I’ll do with it, but I am inordinately thrilled, almost obsecenely delighted with it nonetheless.

For many, the new year is a time for resolutions and big plans, a time to tackle new projects, and think about taking on deferred dreams. I am no exception, only this year, I am doing it in baby steps, with small but satisyfying projects. Out with the old, and in with the new.