Koi Pillow – Details

This project is moving more quickly than anticipated. Insomnia and a new audio book made it easy to spend some time this weekend stitching away. I’m totally blocked on a monster work project and having panic attacks about it, so stitching was a good break from that mess.

photo 2

As you can see, my tension has issues. I’m doing my best to only use my left hand, with minor assists from the right – like when I’m coming up from beneath the piece and can’t quite get the needle in just the right place to butt up against the stitch from the next scale over. I’m doing better than I expected to be, but am glad that I didn’t choose an SCA project to work on for this.

photo 1

The tail is spectacular on this fish. I absolutely love it and am not sure how to do it justice. The koi fish, and the tail in particular, beg for the tiny stitches of an expert at silk shading. This is not that project. I’m limiting myself to stitches that I can actually pull off as a lefty, and I can’t do silk shading with my right hand. Stem outlines with little stitches along where the ribs of the fin are seem like a good solution.

photo 3

I kind of like the thin black lines between the small stitches. I’m thinking about going over them with skinny silk sewing thread in white or maybe black to emphasize the line better without adding much visual weight. Gold? What do you think? Maybe I’ll do some as an experiment at the end when my hand is a little more attuned to finer work.

Koi Pillow Project

I need projects and activities to improve the fine motor skills in my left hand while my right one heals. Simple stitching is a good activity for this, so I ordered a tambour frame that sits on a table and got to work. My few test stitches were perfectly good – split stitch, straight stitch, back stitch, stem. Not perfect, but good enough. I decided to do some embroidery for sofa pillows since I can’t find any that I like very much!

There’s this great koi fish in my tattoo coloring book, so I sketched him up on some Solvy. It’s my first try at working with Solvy after being told about it at Kingdom A&S last year. If you do much embroidery – particularly complex designs – it’s worth a try. The roll is 7 7/8″ wide and 9 yds long for about $8 with the 40% off coupon.

photo 3

You draw on it, stitch over it, then dip it in water, and the remaining Solvy just dissolves cleanly away. It’s an ideal solution for the complicated knotwork, Norse, and Celtic designs that my husband likes on his stuff. Pouncing them is a nightmare, as is painting them on in white gouache. This is super easy. You can get it in the frame with the fabric or baste it down. I haven’t dissolved it yet, but I watched videos online before buying it, and it’s pretty quick!

photo 1

Here’s my fish! His colors are sort of blown out in this shot, but it has a Thread Heaven box for scale. The box is almost a perfect 1″ cube. I’m working on some scrap linen I had intended to use for trim on a tunic. It’s a nice color, but an odd sort of yellow that turned out to not look very good with my skin tone or Kevin’s. I think will be a better choice on the dark, warm grey of my new sofa where we could use some fun color. There’s enough for a couple of nicely sized pillows.

Offhand flourishing lesson

In my long-term Spencerian lessons, we’ve covered all the letters of the alphabet by now and are on to the more advanced stuff. We just had our last lesson for 2013, and the focus was on flourishing. You want to talk about things that look effortless and turn out to be hard? We can talk about flourishing. The good stuff is a graceful, airy bit of pizazz. And then there’s what I do – leaden, sad, and hopelessly awkward. It’s just unnatural. I’ve known flourishing was coming, and I have been scared. Especially when your teacher spins out something like this in a few minutes, as if pulling this off would be way easier than picking up a notecard at the store:


Basic flourishes are an integral part of Spencerian. It’s frilly. But hey! Spencerian offers up the magical world of offhand flourishing! Offhand flourishing is the ultimate decorative skill you can learn with a pointed pen. It’s daunting to look at a whole page of fanciful animals, feathers, floral sprays and swirls and think you’ll be able to figure out how to do it. Check out some of Jake Weidmann’s amazing work. Yeah… I’m supposed to be figuring out how to do that stuff.

Fortunately, it breaks down to rather simple elements you already know how to do, and the challenge is putting them together in one coherent whole. The little bits are the strokes I already know how to make for the most part, only more controlled, more precise. As it turns out, it’s a fabulous exercise to practice the pressure control on your pen without having to engage your mind in the business of letter-forms. After a few hours of sitting there doodling, we came to the conclusion that this is a splendid way to start practice sessions – very meditative.

20131118-174919.jpgThe big sprays and birds are super cool and very dramatic, but they’re not very practical for most applications. I’m a practical calligrapher, especially when it comes to how I plan to use Spencerian, which is for invitations, weddings, envelopes, and the like. Ain’t nobody got time to be making fancy turtle doves snuggling up on one of 200 envelopes…

So I got comfortable with something like this – extend some of the basic flourishes on the initial capital, then use that as a base to do something quick and small. Little floral things like this are quick. So are things that look like wheat, feathery things, and an underline that looks like a little pine bough.

Something tells me everyone is going to have very fancy tags on their Christmas presents this year…


Crewel deer

20131016-185849.jpgI needed a no rules project. Every other thing I have my hands on involves stacks of research books from the library at UT, journal articles from all over the place, binders of examples and tutorials. There are complex stitches that require focus and good lighting. They’re going to be given as awards or put in to be judged in competitions.

A midnight stumbling upon a really cool site with great patterns I could download for only a buck sealed the deal. I was going to do some crewel work that I could frame.

Modern crewel embroidery has been whispering my name for a while now. I have a few pounds of superb cobweb weight wool yarn that’s undyed and waiting to become anything other than a monstrous knitted lace project. Some got dyed with cochineal, turmeric, wildflowers, and false saffron last fall. It’s too fine to weave with, so I’ve been thinking of over-dyeing it to create related and complex color palettes.

In the bottom bowl, the red and yellow to the left are my stater colors from last fall. In the top bowl, the pale purple color was dyed in the exhaust bath of the cochineal. The rest are over-dyed with washes of Kool-Aid or food dyes in a light vinegar solution. If you’ve never dyed wool with Kool-Aid, you really should because all you need is a Pyrex measuring cup, some Kool-Aid packets, and a microwave. This is the absolute best site ever for how to do it – and they give you like 136 different color combos you can get.

20131016-185918.jpgSo far, it’s turned out really well! I did have to go to eeeebil Walmart to find the blue flavor of Kool-Aid. For some reason, my Target only has pre-sweetened drops of the stuff, not the powder envelopes. DO NOT DYE with the sweetened Kool-Aid.

You just mix the stuff with water, put yarn that’s been soaking in water in, nuke it for a few minutes, and let it sit till it’s cooled to room temperature and the dye bath is clear. Rinse and let air dry. If you’re a control freak or a cheapskate, this is the secret skill for you! I saved a TON of money being able to do this, and I still have probably two pounds of yarn left, which is basically a lifetime supply if it’s going to be used for embroidery.

So! On to the part where I embroider things! Wool is pretty fantastic. It goes quickly, holds vibrant color, and looks so nice and full with not a lot of work. I love this deer, and I’m really excited to finish him up and get started on the beautiful and unusual owl patterns I downloaded from the same place.

This is Abraham, and he has been my faithful partner in dyeing all of this yarn (I think I’m up to 14 shades now?). Not even once has he gotten it confused for his ball and tried to make off with it.

I’ve been on and off the cusp of getting sick from wearing myself out, so Avi and I took a mandatory weekend of rest recently to hang out on the couch, learn about the wonders of embroidering with wool, and start watching the X-Files because neither of us have ever watched it. Here’s what I got done lazing around over the weekend and a couple of weeknights: