Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Balancing act

Avoiding perfect symmetry also helps to keep your needlepoint designs (and the arrangements of your furniture and knick knacks in your house!) lively. Instead of perfect symmetry in which the same objects are placed on either side of a central axis, such as a pair of candlesticks placed one each on the two ends of a fireplace's mantel, try...More......balancing what could be called "visual weight," instead. Multiple small light-colored objects (remember to group them in odd numbers!) can weigh visually the same as a single larger dark-colored object. In this little needlepoint I designed to express my love for my dear husband, I put the tall and slender ankh in the upper left corner next to the "heavier" expanded part of the central design, while I put the shorter, but horizontal, thus "heavier," little symbol for the soul in the upper right next to the "lighter" compressed part of the central design.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Reflective serendipity

"Hmmmmmmm, what if I try to do...More......some reflections in needlepoint? It would be rather difficult, given the rigidly gridded nature of the medium, but getting something fun would be the challenge and pleasure, wouldn't it?," I had been pondering for days. Then this post popped up in one of my favorite blogs, "The Textile Blog." (

I can't display any pictures because of copyright laws, but, clicking on the title of my post, you can see some lyrical examples by a textile artist called Virginia Abrams, who gave her permission to John Hopper for his inspirational and informative blog "The Textile Arts," which provides so many stimuli for needlepoint projects that it would take a hundred life times to do them all! Now that the bug has bitten, it's very likely that just such a challenge will pop up as a project of mine, once the things already in the pipeline have been finished.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Odd man out

Having studied studio art in college, before passing over to art history for my M.A. and Ph.D., I've studied and practiced designing compositions. I don't pretend to know everything, and other artists may follow different principles, but since I get so much pleasure from creating my own designs, I thought I'd share my thoughts with you, so that you can experience this fun, too.

This needlepoint--a present for a friend for the birth of her first child (she requested the strawberries)--shows one of the principal ways to keep your design lively: use odd/uneven numbers of principal items. The sides have 3 strawberries, while the top and bottom (counting again the corner berries) have 5.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Computer update went well (whew!)

The computer update went well (whew!), so I am able to do the blog and e-mail, Thank Goodness! Yes, ...More......the Wizard to add the program automatically started when I put the CD into the drive, and it all went amazingly well.

Clicking on the icon, automatically installed on my desktop, opened the program, which was 100% intuitive for one of the two things I wanted to do.

And the second thing I wanted to do? THAT was 100% NOT intuitive, and the ..."help"... menu just said that the function was possible, without saying HOW!

I poked around a bit, and was beginning to despair. Giving up, I decided to close the program, and hunt around in internet for instructions, when I saw something small and tucked away that I hadn't noticed before. "What the heck," I said to myself, "might as well click here before closing." That was it!

Once arriving there, the rest was again 100% intuitive. Though it would have been better to make the function more obvious, at least I found it, and the installation of the program didn't send everything in tilt, so I'm happy!

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Computer update...may go offline for awhile

I'm about to do a computer update. Though I don't expect any problems, if you don't hear from me for awhile, you'll know the reason why. "Just put in the diskette, and follow the onscreen instructions..." (heh). Let's keep our fingers crossed!

Appliqués and's later than you think!

Aaaaaah, the first real and delightful days of summer in this year of oddly tenacious cool weather and rain, here. "Thumbing" through other needlepoint web sites, however,...More......I saw Christmas patterns, already! "That's cute," I found myself saying, "but there's still lots of time." The small Xmas ornaments and the like didn't trigger any particular emergency messages in my adrenaline system...the Christmas tree skirt did.

I'm just guessing, but the total space to cover seems like it would be equivalent to at least two chair seat backs, seats and arm rests. For me, that's about two years of work in "needlepoint time."

How to remedy this problem? While using scraps of left-over canvas, too big to toss out, but too small to use easily, probably will provide you with small objects, such as tree ornaments, thinking "appliqué" also may let you kill two birds with one stone: use up those odd bits and pieces AND have a personalized tree skirt in time for Christmas.

Though not a Christmas theme, here's a good example of just such concepts. I needlepointed this image seen in a stained glass window, then used black trim to imitate the leaded canes around the crest, rather than needlepoint the whole surface of the pillow.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Is there life after cushions? (03)

As long as we're talking about pincushions, here's the one...More......I made with my initials for myself. It is filled with the sand intended for creating sand pictures in decorative vases (I have to get very creative about coming up with product substitutes, as craft stores don't exist here; needle work stores concentrate on cross stitch and, for needlepoint, DMC, which has threads either too big, or too small, for 18-pt; and postage costs are prohibitive).

Lining it and adding a zipper would make it just the right size in 18-pt for a change purse, too. (Because of its small size, it might be too hard to sew with right sides together, then turn...with the wrong sides together, fold a ribbon around the circumferance; sewing it down--being sure to catch both edges of the ribbon, front and back--will close up the little purse.)

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Is there life after cushions? (02)

Searching for non-cushion/framed piece projects for my needlepoints, I consulted...More......all the books I have. Some provide possibilities so--for me--bizarre for needlepoint projects that the promising long lists ended up not helpful after all. Cover a brick with my precious and long-in-the-making handwork to make a doorstop, subject to dirt of all sorts? Are you nuts?! I even have resisted doing a footstool for that same reason!

Here, instead, is my design for a small strawberry pie seen from the top, just right for an 18-point (covered) coaster, or a pin cushion. If you work on a larger-holed canvas, the design will end up bigger, of course. (More about other objects ready for hosting your needlepoint projects, later).

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Do as I say, not as I do

It was bound to be noted clearly, sooner or later. Since I...More......rarely use a stitching frame, as I previously mentioned, it's obvious that my finished needlepoints come out a bit skewed, and really need to be straightened ("blocked").

Those of you with sharp eyes already will have noted this, looking at the examples of my work, finished but not yet blocked, sewn up, or framed. Those of you with really sharp eyes and some practice will realize that they are quite skewed, and that it will be difficult to get them 100% straight.

Try as I might to loosen my stitch, it must be on the tight side, which, through the pulling action, causes the slant. If you can get used to working on a frame, it's much better. If you can't, try keeping your stitches relatively loose, but consistent. If only I could practice what I preach....

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

How do I decide on a project?

How do I decide on a project? First, I get the "bug." Unless my life is horrifically busy, when...More......after dinner all I can do is collapse, then I have the urge to do needlepoint. It makes me feel quite virtuous, because just watching T.V. seems a waste of time, and I'm often too tired to read. So, I like to watch a good program AND needlepoint. The repetitive action of the stitching is also 'hypnotic' and relaxing.

When deciding on a new project, I turn first to my needlepoint books, and thumb through them, looking at the designs and kinds of projects, hoping for inspiration (or, rather, trying to sift through the various inspirations, and decide on just one!). Couple this with a possible particular need for myself, or as a gift, and voilà!, the project imposes itself on me!

In the image in question, my love for cats, the adorable grumpiness of the Victorian cats in E. Bradley's book, and the need to create a draft-stopper for the window in our bedroom all coalesced into this row of grumpy Victorian kitties, which provided yet another needlepoint lesson: as much as I tried to needlepoint each and every kitty exactly the same, counting the stitches ever so carefully, teeny differences crept into the work, enlivening it, and making a close examination of the individual personality of each of the kitties quite fun.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Rope border

Here's another of my borders--a rope motif, inspired by ancient Greek and Roman art and architecture--to adapt for your images and sayings. Don't forget to plan your initials (see example) and dates into the design!

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Is there life after cushions? (01)

Once your house and the houses of your friends are full of your needlepoint cushions and framed pieces, what can you do with your needlepoint projects? My...More...pug dog and folded ribbon needlepoint became an evening purse with a silky black rope trim for the shoulder strap. It's just the right size (8 1/2" x 11"). Not too big, not too small, and the old-fashioned theme is a nice touch for all but the most formal of dinners.

A stitch in time

When designing your needlepoints, you'll need to add at least two outer rows all the way around for the finishing. If you'll be sewing with it, then the two outer rows--which will be hidden in the seam--can be of leftover colors. If you'll be framing it, you'll need those two extra rows in the same color as the background to go under the the lip of the frame (remember, don't cover the needlepoint with smashes the stitches). In addition, if you plan to use a bit of batting to fluff it out in the frame (a nice effect, even if only a little batting is used), you'll need an additional two rows all the way around to account for the swelling.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

To shape, or not to shape, that is the question

To liven up a needlepoint, I've been thinking for a long time about shaping the contour...More......I love cats (as "Maukie" attests), and I sew up my own projects, so I would love to do a needlepoint cushion of one, but have been dragging my feet because needlepoint canvas is so stiff that I fear it will be too bulky, or too difficult, to turn the sharp corners necessary for the ears, even with a fairly large overall size.

Until this morning.

I think the solution just popped into my head, and now I can't wait to try it.

I'm finally following my own advice to remember materials and techniques...this time applied not just to the yarns and canvas and designing and stitching process, but also to the blocking process.

All the books I've read caution the needlepointer not to soak the canvas when blocking because it deprives the canvas of its desirable stiff qualities. Oh yeah, so, if the stiff quality isn't desired, the bathing away of the starches would make the area desirably pliable!

I'm pretty sure that's going to get rid of the problem, but I have to wait months before being able to try it because I have to finish my current project, then design and stitch the next before being able to get it to the blocking stage.

Hope I remember!

Friday, June 18, 2010

Ribbon border

Designing one's own needlepoints is so much fun, even when being inspired by needlepoint books (well, that's what they're there for, after all!).

I got this ribbon border from the Victorian needlepoint book, and used it for the needlepoint I did of a pugdog (also from the Victorian needlepoint book), and I added the cushion, the ball and the striped background (color scheme dictated--once again--by what I had in stock!). It came out very well, I think.

The ribbon motif is quite flexible, if you think of the flexed ribbon separately from the bow in the corner. Use multiples of the ribbon bit (turning it, as necessary) to fill up the lengths of your design, and plan the width of the border to accomodate the bow in the corner, too (also to be turned, as necessary).

The border would be a lovely accent for your favorite sayings, too. (I did the patterns with the StitchPainter program, then turned the images into BMP for you; if you use your browser to enlarge the image, it should be big enough to use.)

Calling all ranchers' and farmers' wives, sisters, moms...

One fun thing to do in needlepoint (or embroidery, or cross-stitch) is sayings, whether uplifting, or for fun. Inspired by a post in one of my favorite non-needlepoint blogs (Raising Country Kids, by Erin:, I designed this one on being a farmer-rancher's wife. I designed the font in a western style, but, in fact, if you take out "farm," it could be applicable to any new bride! Opening the image, my browser allows me to enlarge it, and save it so that the design will be useful. I hope it works for you, too!

Thursday, June 17, 2010

A few historical notes (Part 1)

I’m naturally studious (that sounds much nicer than “curious,” doesn’t it?). Even pure pleasure reading elicits the questions “Who?,” “What?,” “When?,” “Where?,” and “Why?” So, go figure when I read something so richly informative as...More...Elizabeth Bradley’s “Ricami Vittoriani,” the Italian translation of her “Decorative Victorian Needleworks” (see the bibliography of my needlepoint book collection).

She skips over the early history of needlepoint (see, eventually, my “A few historical notes (Part 2)”), and jumps to the period in question, the Victorian age, in which one sees the benefits of industrialization for needlepoint.

The first hand-colored printed grids (for cross stitch) appeared in about 1800. Since their (female!) designer lived in Berlin, the hand work was known as “Berlin work.” These hand-colored printed grids first appeared in England in 1831, and still were quite costly.

The new wealth and leisure time created by industrialization, as well as the appearance of brighter aniline dyes around the mid 19th century, helped to make this pastime immediately popular with ladies of leisure in England and (with patterns already 6, or 7, years old) in the States.

Preferred styles followed the “Fine Arts,” while favored subjects could reflect contemporary, or historical, events: for example, animal themes became quite popular in England, after the opening of the zoo in Regent Park in 1828.

Books and magazines contributed to disseminating ideas, tastes and popular patterns.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Like ripping off a bandaid, let me confess my (one and only?) design disaster, and get it out of the way

It seemed like such a good idea for the gift for the first child of movie-loving friends. "What kind of design to do? Don't want to do something banal...Oh, I know! I'll plan it like a movie ticket,...More......with the mom's name as the producer (heh heh), the dad's name as director, and the baby's name as the featured event! It will be so GREAT!"

When finished (after months and months of work...the stitches are tiny, mind you), I wasn't so hot about it after all...aware that the details were too small, too many, too complicatedly fussy, and the colors too bright (but that's partly due to the lack of a Paternayan yarn store nearby, and too-costly postage for long distance purchases, so I have to stock up whenever I visit family and friends, then use what I've got in stock). I'm really embarrassed, now.

It remains my reminder of what NOT to do. Forewarned is forearmed!

(P.S., to the "mom" and "dad" in question, thankfully incognito due to the small size of the photo...I'll understand if the needlepoint "brightens" the inside of a dresser drawer!)

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

A rose by any other name...

So what's up with the name of my blog? I couldn't resist putting it in Latin. For one thing, it means the blog starts with an "A," and so, hopefully, will be alphabetized at the top of web lists. Latin also is a tersely lovely (though difficult) language. "Ars" for "Art." "Acupicturae" for "painting with a needle" in the genitive form (that's the "possessive" for you and me). "Stellae" for "Star's." (See:

Most recent completed project: a Thank You

I can't tell you about my current project, yet, it's a surprise gift, but I can tell you about my most recent project:...More......another surprise gift.

Lately, we have had to avail ourselves more than usual--most unfortunately--of the efficient services of our public health service doctor, whom I wanted to thank from the bottom of my heart, which meant--for me--with a hand-done needlepoint of my own design. "Medico" in Italian means "doctor," the blue "o's" are pills, and the border colors are inspired by the traditional colors used by pharmacy signs, here. I designed it, executed it, and framed it by myself (more on framing in the future).

I'm very happy (and relieved) to say that she loved it, and immediately set it up in her office, where she always can see it.

Monday, June 14, 2010

The Devil is in the Details...of Designing

Ever wondered why the (good) readymade needlepoint designs are so darn expensive? I did (and do), but one starts to understand why, when one carefully executes designs. Leaving aside for the moment other costs,...More......such as paying royalties to the museum or artist holding image rights, physical production & storage & shipping, personnel, PR & advertising, a bit of good old-fashioned profit and who knows what else, the design and proofing process is a lot more exacting and painstaking and time-consuming than you may have thought.

Take a look at my diagrams: at the top is the plain canvas, in the middle a design, at the bottom a simulated needlepoint of the colored "O" of the design. Note how, in the design, the "O" looks completely closed, yet, in the simulated needlepoint, there are gaps.

Remember I mentioned earlier to pay attention to materials and technique? This is an excellent example: the thickness and thinness of the lines (much more visible in real stitching), as well as the gaps, are produced by the bottom left to upper right direction of my right handed stitching (the gaps are on the opposite side for lefties).

When these thickness variations and gaps are not desirable, it takes eye-straining care and great concentration to hunt for these areas in the design, and, even then, some pop up during execution (hence, for commercial purposes, samples have to be worked). To get rid of these variances and gaps, extra stitches have to be added where you may not want them.

On the other hand these variations in thickness and gaps also can be part of your original design. Keep them in mind, too, when using Cross Stitch patterns for needlepoint.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Needlepoint stitches

There are lots of needlepoint stitches and varying definitions of needlepoint. I use one of the most common,...More......the tent, or continental, stitch (please see my diagram). It's easy, it doesn't vary in size, or orientation (right-handed in the diagram), and, although I do vary color, I do not vary yarn texture, nor do I use specialty threads. As found in Leon Battista Alberti's mid-15th century advice for painters, I prefer to try to achieve the affects with color, not using the substances (ex., gold, precious stones), themselves.

I sometimes use a frame, it does help keep the canvas straight, but find it cumbersome, especially if I want to take the needlepoint with me in a travel bag. Hence, afterwards, I have to straighten the dampened needlepoint on a gridded surface ("blocking").

Three of my favorite needlepoint designers

Three of my favorite needlepoint designers are..More......Beth Russell, Elizabeth Bradley and Erica Wilson. Beth Russell's needlepoint designs are some of my favorites. I love the William Morris adaptations. Interesting balances between modern and traditional, between figurative and stylized. Elizabeth Bradley loves something I love: adapting old images to today's needlepoint projects. One of my other favorite needlepoint designers is Erica Wilson. In fact, my needlepoint mania is all her "fault!" It was her "Quaint Quinces" pattern that got me hooked.

As I am able, I will be creating pages for links (to the above three and others, without any pretence to completeness...there are so many other good sites readily available) and for my photographs, needlepoints and patterns.

Adopting images in mosaics--a surprisingly difficult adventure

I thought it was going to be easy. Translating an image in mosaics into a needlepoint design. I was wrong! I had forgotten that,...More......though perhaps we first think of little same-size evenly placed squares when we think of mosaics, it's just not true.

In the areas where more detail is desired, the mosaic artist snips and clips the mosaic bits into the desired shapes, and--to better catch the light and create a sense of movement--sets the mosaic cubes and bits at slightly different angles into the cement support.

Getting the right amount of detail sufficient to express these marvelous images produced for myself and inspired by the famous mosaics in San Vitale (Ravenna, Italy) in an 16-18" pillow already wasn't easy. Getting the sense of glitter and movement (without "cheating" and using shiny gold-like threads) was not easy, either.

And I learned an interesting lesson also helpful for me as an art historian: as much as I wanted to copy the images, as exactly as possible, something subtle changed, as the design passed through my eyes and hands to the canvas. The face of Theodora, the Byzantine empress, turned out softer, sadder, than it really is, while the face of Justinian, the Byzantine emperor, turned out a bit harder, more wily.

My approach to designing my needlepoints (Part 2)

So, I tend to adopt consciously at least a degree of stylization in my designs, you can see in this Christmas decoration executed in honor of the birth of the first child of a friend. Now, I think you can see that "a degree of stylization" doesn't have to mean "abstract," for those of you preferring what are called the "figurative" arts. It really just means something important in all the visual arts: being aware of the possibilities and limitations of the medium, and keeping them in mind during the design process.

My approach to designing my needlepoints (Part 1)

What is my approach to designing needlepoints? It is tempting to try to "paint" a realistic picture in needlepoint. Sometimes,'s even required, or requested. As in this example of a gliding swan, designed and executed for a friend, who loves, well, swans. I think it came out quite nicely, for a realistic work.

However, even though the 8" x 11" size seemed sufficient to allow detail, in the end, the "small" size of the work (and even it took months!) forced a degree of stylization.

In the end, I decided that--since I am not willing to dedicate years to executing a single enormous realistic image--the needlepoint medium (with rigidly placed evenly sized holes) and the tent stitch (which results in a small uniformly shaped point) are better adapted to some degree of stylization, so I tend to follow this approach in my designs.

Welcome! (first post)

Welcome! I'm so glad that you, too, are interested in hand-done needlepoint (no machine-work, please!). I'm looking forward to sharing this passion with you.

How did I start? Eons ago,...More......I began with embroidery, and enjoyed it mightily, but life got in the way, and so I set it aside. Years later, by chance, I got a needlepoint kit (quinces) from the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, and I was hooked! Granted, it had been fun to use the different kinds of stitches available in embroidery, but being forced in needlepoint--which, for those of you new to needlepoint, uses one single simple stitch--to get various effects just by varying the colors was a challenge so fascinating that, many years later, I'm still having loads of fun designing and executing my own needlepoint art.

I use single threads of Paternayan yarn (no advertisement intended, and no sponsorship received for this ad...unfortunately!) and 18-point canvas. For those of you new to needlepoint, that means 18 holes to an inch of needlepoint canvas, a size that allows a good amount of detail where desired, without being too tedious when filling in the backgrounds. (Yes, I know it's possible to use even smaller yarns in the detailed areas, and larger yarns in the backgrounds, but I personally just don't like these jumps in size in the same image.) How long does this take? I find that the simple filling in of about 1" x 8" background (i.e., not counting carefully for detailed areas) takes me all evening.

For designing my projects, if not directly by hand, I use a marvelously flexible program called StitchPainter (no advertisement intended, and no sponsorship received for this ad...unfortunately!), which also allows the user to import photographs, and turn them into gridded designs.

In this non-commercial blog, I'll be turning my designs, photographs and works into images, which you can use, too, for your non-commercial purposes only, if you should like them. (Until further notice--and maybe forever--, all ads appearing on this blog are not of my doing, but come from Google itself...a small "price to pay" for getting the web space and blog modules for free!)

What is my approach to design, and what am I working on, now? I'll answer these questions in following posts!

Bye for now, Star
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