Monday, August 30, 2010

(More) Grill work for Milan Monday (04)

This time, the grill pattern is particularly useful as an overall pattern, a border or a corner.

It is a detail from a grill located between the Duomo and the episcopal palace. See today's post on my "My Milan (Italy)" blog for more information. (

I uploaded the detail of the grill into my StitchPainter program, then turned it into a BMP image to share with you.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Food fight! (01): Clipcart cupcake

Clipart graphics, if good, often translate fairly easily into needlepoint designs.

This cute cupcake (use your own colors!) is from a good source of free clipart images:

I just downloaded it into a BMP format, and then directly into StitchPainter, just for you! (To be visible to all, even those without StitchPainter, I then transformed the diagram into a BMP image.)

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Web site updates

Just put the bibliography in a Google "Sites" page, and put a link to it in the side column, to make it less bulky, and added a list of the labels, so you can find things more easily.


N.B., in case there are problems, here's the address of the bibliography page:

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Meteoric brothers revolutionize art: Library mouse (05)

English brothers, who weren’t brothers, revolutionized art. Meteors, they blasted through accepted, even delightful, traditions at the end of the 19th century. Loved by collectors, critics and fellow artists (even those persnickety ones across the channel) and embraced sporadically by that then new breed of advertizing directors, they baffled and left emotionally unengaged too many consumers of the general public to be commercially successful. The partnership, founded in the summer of 1894, petered out by mid 1900, and the two brothers-in-law went their separate ways, professionally and personally. Who were they? The Beggarstaff brothers, of course!...More......

I came across this mind-boggling pair of artists during my M.A. research for a paper on poster art (I won’t say when…that would date me too easily). Their advances were only more fully understood in the Art Deco period, characterized by the stream-lined simplification necessary for their approach, and probably again in the 1960s, though the double-edged sword of their lessons are still timely.

Their mature designs created with stencils, though ultimately reproduced in lithograph, use broad flat expanses of color functioning actively both as background and foreground figure. Believe me, it’s a lot harder to do than it sounds, or than the stunningly simple results belie. (See their awe-inspiring “Girl reading”:, and, while you’re at it, sign up to this marvelous blog dedicated to the Fin-de-Si├Ęcle.)

Why, then, “double-edged sword?” Their commercial failure should be a clue.

They most often worked “on spec,” meaning that—as had increasingly become the case for artists, at least since the Baroque period, though also practiced, earlier—they first did the work, speculating, and peddled it, hoping to get paid, later.


So their generic designs didn’t always express the specific products as effectively as expected by their viewers, and their understated emotion didn’t grab the consumers by the…throat.

Sometimes the tenuous link between design and product was sufficient, as the case in the “KASSAMA CORN FLOUR” poster ( The enigmatic and typically emotionally distant image of a young girl carrying a market basket was sufficiently related by the lettering (also planned by the ‘brothers’) expressing the name of the brand and, in breath-taking simplicity, the WHAT. No long text detailing the innumerable superb qualities, the excellent price-quality ratio and the easy availability of the product (there’s a lesson in this for me, if I would just absorb it…). Just the gut impact of the sunny yellow and starkly simplified graphics—readily visible from afar and through polluted heavy fog, both essential characteristics—and the almost neutral image of the young shopper. (Who is she? A young servant, well or badly treated? The older child of a numerous poor family, whose father had died recently in a mining accident, whose mother was dying of TB, and whose fellow siblings, all under the age of 8, now weighed on her fragile slightly bowed shoulders for their survival, or was she from an up-and-coming middle class family, excited but intimidated by her first grown up chore all alone?) The poster was a success.

The disconnect between the product and the image was loudly criticized for the commercially and critically popular “Beefeater” poster, whose avant-garde bright red and black merged gradually in the viewers’ brains into the image of the guard, as if filtered through a heavy London fog, though this effect hadn’t been intended ( Produced “on spec” and intended for a beef extract product, for which it would have been humorously perfect at that time (the association of these historic guards and beef products was typical at the time), the poster’s radical simplification defied the powers of comprehension of the advertizing directors to whom it first had been proposed (after the artistically and commercially successful release of the poster lasting years, I can hear the presidents of the those companies, “You &%*£°§ idiot! You’re fired!”), luckily for the American magazine Harper’s, which wanted to break into the European market with startling graphics, already more advanced on their side of the great watery divide.

Lack of comprehension on the part of the general public and their ever (and rightly) sensitive commercial caretakers, the advertizing directors, lead first to the disconnect between product and poster and then to the financial impracticality and dissolution of the artistic team. James Pryde and William Nicholson, who had adopted “J. and W. Beggarstaff” as a full blooded English pseudonym, went their separate artistic ways, which also became personal, after the death of the artistically gifted Mabel, sister of the former and wife of the latter.

‘Leave them wanting more.’ That old show business adage applies equally as well to the Beggarstaffs and to the marvelous, but much too short book (even at 120 odd pages of well illustrated text), The Beggarstaff Posters by Colin Campbell (Barrie & Jenkins, 1990). I wish the book had added just a few more pages, giving at least hints of their painting and art, before and after (there are a few, but much too few).

Campbell’s book gives a well-rounded idea of these artists’ fundamental contribution to the birth of the modern poster, is a delightful read, and has served as mid-wife for the long awaited birth of my Beggarstaff-inspired needlepoint idea. Get in line, girl, there are at least 3, or 4, ahead of you, but now that you’re born, you needn’t fret. It will be your turn, too.

(Searching for “Beggarstaff” in Google images turns up skads of examples, not all originals. To train your eye to quality, try skipping over the sites advertizing reproductions, and go straight to the museum sites of poster collections, such as that of the V&A:

Monday, August 23, 2010

(More) Grill work for Milan Monday (03)

I love watching for interesting grillwork while I walk around Milan. Since it is an "industrial art," it already often has been trimmed of the superfluous, and is ready to be translated into a needlepoint project....


The grill that inspired this needlepoint is in Via Meravigli not too far from Piazza Cordusio, on the left side of the street. Since it is a long narrow pattern, it adapted nicely to become an eyeglass case. To see the original, go to this page on my blog dedicated to Milan:

I planned the diagram using StitchPainter (look carefully, there are delicate grays to introduce a bit of visual movement). The needlepoint was a gift a few years ago.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Starry starry night

A few of the steps on the way to the conclusion of the starry gift cushion inspired by some mid fifth century A.D. mosaics in Ravenna.


The cross is probably about 5, or so, inches tall...

Remember that, working on 18-point canvas, it takes me a whole evening's work to produce about 1" x 5" of worked canvas (less, if there is a complicated pattern to count out)...

The "furry" bits are the flashes of color; the ends get cut off, as I fill up around them...

And now, for the finished project (I do my own sewing up, too):

(for more info on the font of inspiration, go to my:

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Library mouse (04): Beth Russell's William Morris Needlepoint

Oh, happiness. Yesterday, Beth Russell’s William Morris Needlepoint (Conran Octopus, 1995) arrived. Apart from only whishing close to a reference to his leonine bursts of rage and tickling an interest in his poetry, the book gives a good biographical picture of (fascinating) Morris, while it explores examples of his work and Russell’s adaptations of them (complete with diagrams to follow), which was the point, anyway. (For more about Morris, see my: Apart from delighting in all the images, I also learned two interesting things, and the seed of a much desired future project was planted....More...

What did I learn? First, as I had been coming to suspect, William Morris detested my other design inspiration, Owen Jones, as too rigid (though they do have in common at least their original reliance on natural principles, I can understand Morris’ opinion, but there still are lots and lots of inspirational, helpful and challenging things to be had from Jones, who would have had—I suspect—a few criticisms of his own for Morris, so I’ll be writing about Jones, later). Next, in line with Morris’ own wishes to avoid copying for himself and for his clients doing their own handwork, Russell more actively adapts Morris’ designs to the project at hand (and rightfully so) than the faithful Morris spirit might imply at first.

What about the seeds of my much desired future needlepoint project?

I don’t love, I *adore* William Morris, and *really* want to do a Morris needlepoint. Whenever I went into a bookstore, even for something entirely different, I would pass through the hobby section, hunting for a book on Morris in needlepoint. Found one, but it seemed much too costly. Sigh. Back it went onto the shelf. This went on for years and years. Why not try in eBay? Great idea, but it would flash into my head when I was away from the computer. This, too, went on for years. Recently, the two finally coincided, and I found this and other books, snapped up on the spot.

Ahhhh, finally Morris designs to caress and needlepoint. So many beautiful designs, but one I liked for something, another for something else, and—because the designs are quite complicated—my desire to lazily work up a pre-existing pattern warred unsuccessfully with my urge to be creative. Results? Stasis. The inner “Yes!” switch just wasn’t flipping. It finally did last night.

My future Morris project flashed into existence in my head. Now I “just” have to translate it into a StitchPainter diagram. The line forms at the back, Mr. Project, there are at least three other needlepoint projects already waiting patiently.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010


A dear friend, even after a year, was having a very difficult time accepting the unexpected loss of her mother. I decided to needlepoint for her a guardian angel...More......

From my art history studies, I remembered a tender angel helping a soul successfully undergo its weighing, as depicted on a tympanum of the Romanesque church in Autun, France, and thought that it could be just perfect for her.

I isolated the little angel with the souls in its care, and set it all against a heavenly gold-toned background, achieved through the use of color, not specialty threads.

The (fuzzy, sorry!, but it's the only one I have) picture shows the unfinished, unblocked needlepoint (hence its skew).

(To see the original, go to:

Monday, August 16, 2010

Library mouse (03): Beth Russell's "Traditional Needlepoint"

Just arrived, and already gobbled up: that's the fate of Beth Russell's Traditional Needlepoint (David & Charles, 1992)...More......Most of the inspiration for her designs comes directly from the work of William Morris and collaborators (don't know who William Morris was? See my: This means that the charted designs are not only gorgeous, but also complicated...too much so for a beginner, I'd say, but for someone with a bit of needlepoint experience and a lot of patience, the results will be gorgeous.

She gives a lot of practical advice, too, as found in my own previous messages, but what I like best for you about this book is that Ms. Russell and her collaborators have not only chosen images and produced charted designs, but they also have devoted serious thought to how you can adapt each of the charted designs for different projects and with different colors, in order to encourage you to express your creativity.

The call of the Siren (Milan Monday 02)

I love it when my current interests synchronize over the miles with the writers of my favorite blogs, and it happened, again, these last few days.

A recent post on the "Italian Needlework" blog talks about sirens in, well, Italian needlework:

Mid July I took photos of the little historic bridge with sirens in the park behind the Sforza castle. In honor of that post and my recent trip to the bridge, I posted one of the photos on my Milan blog, today:

Such fun! (Though, when hearing about my blogs, my husband burst out, yesterday, with something politely translated from Italian as "How incredibly dull!")

The needlework patterns can be adapted for needlepoint, but keep in mind those tricky diagonals.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

How long does it take you?

How long does it take you to do the actual needlepointing?...More......I did a one-inch long sample on my 18-hole canvas with one single Paternayan yarn (that is, one single yarn pulled away from the three-ply in which it comes, and in length one eighth of the small 8 oz. yarn packs). It turned out less than one inch in height.

I then took note of how many threads I could needlepoint in an evening of simple background filling (hence, no need to slow down to count stitches). In a typical evening of watching a bit of TV news and a film, that is, perhaps 3 1/2 hours, or so, I can needlepoint from three to four of those single yarns, and so the area I can cover in one whole evening of needlepointing turns out to be about the imprint size of a finger.

That's not much.

All this to say...please be patient!

I'm about 3-4 needlepoint sessions shy of finishing that surprise gift needlepoint project I mentioned a number of sessions ago, and then I will be able to share it with you. (And I've already got some other long projects in the works to be shared with you.)

Monday, August 9, 2010

Milan Monday (01)

I promised a surprise for Monday: Milan Monday.

Each Monday, I'll be posting my photos of Milan, Italy, that are inspiring for a needlepoint project. If at all possible (life too often does get in the way of needlepointing), I'll use StitchPainter to turn it into a needlepoint design, too.

While walking in Corso XXII Marzo-Viale Corsico, this air vent grill caught my eye:

And it seemed just perfect for a repeating border design:

Substitute your desired colors for the grays, and enjoy!

If you'd like to follow my blog on Milan, Italy, too, please go to:, thanks!

Thursday, August 5, 2010


A recent comment on one of my posts expressed happy wonder at the existence of a program assisting the creation of needlepoint designs. Quite a few years ago,...More......I researched the then available programs, and chose StitchPainter because it sounded like the one most suited for what I wanted to do: draw, save, print and adapt my own designs, and import photographs.

As discussed in a previous post (July 16, 2010:, the last option turned out to be more complicated than it sounds, not because of the program, itself, but because of the "clean up" process I personally find necessary.

There are, of course, things that could be improved in the program, and the company asked its users to forward suggestions. On the other hand, the program lets me do lots of things that I had never dreamed of, before. Since I find the program so inspiring, one of my plans for this blog is to take us step-by-step through at least some of its basic features, as it will be of interest not only to those already with StitchPainter (or with similar programs), but also will show those without such a program how handy a new "pencil" it is. It also is suitable for use by cross-stitchers and knitters.

(Just to be clear: I get no kickbacks of any kind from StitchPainter. I'm talking about the program because I like it and use it, and want to share my enthusiasm for this aspect of my needlepointing with you.)

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Monday, Monday, so good to me

Monday there will be a good surprise for you, so I hope you will come back to visit. Come to think of it, why not click on "Follow," and get my notes more easily?

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Hurry up, and wait

It's so hard to be patient while designing and stitching before getting to the finished needlepoint. The sense of anticipation builds, the closer I get to the end of stitching. It's bittersweet because I know that, when I do finally finish the stitching, together with the contented satisfaction comes a sense of sad loss, and so I find that I tend to slow down my stitching to savor the last few moments. The companionship of the piece through many (many) happy evenings is almost over, and the search for a new project has to begin.

With maybe 7, or 8, sessions (of a few hours, each) of handwork left, my current project is nearing completion. The happy anticipation of sharing it with the recipient and you is tempered by these tender feelings.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Library mouse (02) (again)

I feel much richer as a person for having learned more about William Morris (1834-1896). I knew of him as a...More......multi-talented artist and craftsman, but never realized that his aspirations to improve and uplift our daily lives by insisting on beauty in the making and using of everyday things also had extended into poetry, narrative and political activism. (For more on Morris, click on the title of this post, or go directly to

Arthur Clutton-Brock’s William Morris (New York: Parkstone Press International, 2007) is largely concerned with exploring Morris’ interests and beliefs, with particular attention to Morris’ own writings. The book is not dedicated to translating his art into needlepoint, or cross stitch, designs, though the ample and beautiful illustrations will be an inspiration for your work.

The book spends less time than I had hoped on analyzing Morris’ approach to art, in order to be able to apply it to our own work. Even if the style of his art may not please you, after learning about his goals, you may find that you like his art better, even if you already adored it before learning more about him, as I did.

The text, despite its in-depth attention to Morris’ writings, is not for scholars, who will lament the rambling text without footnotes and the too short bibliography, but it is suited for interested fans wishing to better understand Morris’ works, and is a good source of some beautiful images full of inspiration for your needlepoints.

Better understanding his goals helps us to better translate his art into designs. Unexpectedly, but more importantly, it helps us, like Morris, to be uplifted by making beautiful things and to insist on living surrounded by beauty, even in all our everyday objects, not just because it gives aesthetic pleasure, but also because it refines our spirits.

(Originally posted July 25, 2010, this message was skipped during Google’s retroactive indexing phase, which means that not only was it not available in internet, but also that the page was not available for the in-site search feature, so the message is being reposted to remedy these two problems. Thank you for your understanding.)

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Garland of roses (9 of 9) (again)

The last of the small "insets" for the "composite" image is this beautiful garland of roses. As smaller designs,...More......they also can be stitched on leftover pieces of canvas, and can function as insets, even in other projects. Two of the little designs worked side-by-side into a single work could become a case for glasses, or a cell phone. As usual for this "composite" image, I drew the design freehand on my StitchPainter program, and was inspired by the Victorian needlepoint book (see bibliography and link list).

As for all my designs, it was planned for 18-count canvas. If stitched on lower-count canvas it will be bigger, and so could be made into a little purse, for example.

(Originally posted July 15, 2010, this message was skipped during Google’s retroactive indexing phase, which means that not only was it not available in internet, but also that the page was not available for the in-site search feature, so the message is being reposted to remedy these two problems. Thank you for your understanding.)
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