Making the most of summer abundance and instagram

plum island phototaker ephpyle

Every summer, I  develop an obsession with Instagram. Last August, I found myself rising early to catch the morning light, planning family outings to picturesque locales and filling my instagram feed with landscapes.

This summer, the photography passion has returned, but instead of landscapes, I’ve been focused on flowers and gardening. I’ve been snapping photos, editing photos, posting photos and dreaming of photos of flowers, plants, gardens.

gathered bouquet ephpyle

I cannot stop thinking about how to best capture my garden flowers in bouquets…

hydrangea and ferns ephpyle

… in styled scenes…

dramatic flowers ehpyle

…in dramatic lighting…

garden puttering ephpyle

or on site, in the garden.

I am astonished at how many hours I can fritter away snapping photos of flowers and plants, dreaming up creative projects, and quite honestly it makes my head spin. I’m happy to know I’m not alone, as, photographer Kim Klassen recently posted. Kim suggested it might be the longer days. I wonder if the lush, vibrant plant growth and bright summer light stir something within us, a primal need to make the most of the abundance of summer(For me, it might also be related to my children being off at camp for a few weeks, but that’s so… practical.)

My current instagram obsession has pushed some of my other projects to the back burner, but like all true summer romances, I know it can’t last. For one thing, I’m taking a printmaking class next week. That should help shift my focus if nothing else. Until then, see you on Instagram!

stewartia blossoms ephpyle

Giddy with garden flowers

hydrangeas.2015

I’m giddy about gardening right now. I feel like the expression “embarrassment of riches” was coined for me, for this afternoon, when I came home from Maryland, with an arm full of hydrangeas, and found my yard still filled with peonies.abundant flowers 2015

What lush abundance! What a thrill it was to to gather these flowers together. I also cut a few scabiosa, but my clippers never made it near the foxglove, mountain laurel, or other blooms that had popped open in my abscence. I put down those clippers and went to find my camera instead.

pale pink peony

I frittered away far too much time taking photos of flowers this afternoon, but it was fun. I hope you’ll enjoy these photos half as much as I enjoyed taking them.

blue hydrangeas

I’ll probably post a few more photos of these beauties in my instagram feed, because, like I said, I’m delighted, enamored, giddy with garden flowers. Join me there!

peonies and hydrangea

more pink peonies

 

Springtime garden dreaming

native withch havelJPG

Hello. It’s been a while.

Like everyone else I know, I’ve been busy. I’ve been attending year end performances, cleaning out the garage, transporting children, filling out permission slips, trying to get a squeaky faucet fixed, and so on. And, of course, I’ve also been busy in my garden.

I started seeds, watched them grow, carried them in and out of the house to harden them off, and now, just this week, planted them outside.

I pruned a dozen inkberry bushes and then luxuriated in the resulting clippings and their glossy foliage and even made a wreath from the cuttings. Sadly, the wreath was a failure, as it turned brown about 24 hours after I hung it in my house, and before I took a photos of the final product, but the project was fun.

I’ve been Instagraming the flowers that have emerged in my garden and trying not to get too excited in anticipation of the ones I hope will bloom soon. (You never know when tragedy may stike in the form of a garden pest.)

I’ve been puttering, planting, and scheming about how to keep the rabbits from eating everything that’s not contained in the fenced enclosure around my vegetable patch. I’ve been thinking about moving some ferns and what to plant in their place.

may apple flower

I’ve been admiring my mayapple which came back five times bigger this year than last. In short, I’ve been happily caught up planning and dreaming in my garden, caught up in the spirit of spring. Happily, I am now caught up here on my blog as well. Happy spring my friends! I hope you’re enjoying it as much as I am.

hot pink peony

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.

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

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.

 

Friday Photo: travel ahead

arizona

I’m packing today for a trip to warmer lands, specifically, Arizona.

I spent a week in Arizona last March, when I took this photo. Springtime is when Sonoran desert plants bloom – before the hot and dry summer. What a thrill it was to see so many blooms in the desert. I’m hoping to see more this trip.

I’m not sure if I’ll be blogging next week or not, but I’ll definitely be posting photos on instagram, and I would love have you join me there!

Also, I’m linking up with Martha at Weekend Doings for a picture… a moment and Catherine at Knotted Cotton for a mid-month Slow Bloggers Linky.

Small Moment: Germinating Seeds

seedlings leaning into the light

Last week, I planted a few seeds. Nothing special, a little basil, a little cilantro. Another way to fight the doldrums of  this long snowy winter.

I was delighted, earlier this week, when the cilantro seeds germinated. I found these seedlings, bright and green, stretching toward the sun, craving the same warmth and light that I do, oblivious to the bitter cold and the blanket of snow outside the window.

Watching tiny flecks of seeds transformed into tender living plants never fails to thrill me. The symbolizism is so obvious (new life, fresh start, etc.), it could seem tired. Germination is such a fundamental function of life, it could be easy to take for granted, but it rarely is. The inexplicable joy of a sprouting seed transcends cliche – this tiny miracle never fails to delight.

I’ll be starting more seeds for my vegetable garden in a few weeks – tomatoes, squash, cucumbers, zinnias. I’d like to plant a few metaphorical seeds as well – kernels of self sufficiency, resilience, and empathy in my children being highest on my list. I’m also working on the seeds of a few creative projects- sketches in a notebook, like a tiny plant curled up inside a seed, waiting to unfurl.

Wishing you all, dear readers, the best of luck in planting some seeds of your own, literal or metaphorical.

Weekend Doings

P.S. Linking up with Martha at Weekend Doings for: A picture… a moment. Click through to see her and other beautiful posts!