Friday, June 03, 2005

Answers, We Got Answers!

Hestia asks about my needlework--how I got into it, what kinds I do, and what I do with finished pieces. Thinking about this question brought a rush of memory, so bear with me. The first piece of needlework I ever started was when I was about six: if I remember correctly, I stayed with my maternal grandmother when my brother was born, while my sister stayed with my father's oldest sister. (My mom had a c-section with me, and they didn't do VBACs back then.) My grandmother taught me how to do cross-stitch: it was a green pepper. I bet my mom still has that around somewhere--or I might even have it by now.

That grandmother was an extremely talented seamstress. She was a dressmaker; she did alterations in a department store; she knit and crocheted; she did crewel work, needlepoint, you name it. I remember two dresses she made for me: One had a giraffe appliqued on the front, while the other had strawberries and flowers and bumblebees embroidered on it. When my parents were cleaning out their house before they sold it, my mom found a stash of needlework (including some tatting) done by my grandmother's mother (whom I never knew), which I promptly claimed. (She was going to toss it!!!) My grandfather's mother tatted--there are still pillowcases around somewhere that she edged. She apparently also darned (who the hell even knows what a darning ball is anymore?). I have a sweater my grandmother crocheted for me maybe 25+ years ago that I can't bear to part with, even if I'd never wear it any more. My grandmother had to stop sewing when her arthritis got too bad, but she made so much.

My mother does a certain amount of needlework as well, or did. (She, too, has arthritis, which makes me wonder what my chances are in this regard.) She made a lot of our clothes when we were kids (which is why I love threadbared so much). She knit a christmas stocking for each of the three of us (and, a few years ago, one for my stepson). She didn't do much fancy needlework--no embroidery, needlepoint, or crewel. Nevertheless, I grew up around women who made things with thread and fabric, and I took to it as well. I did a little bit of sewing for a few years--in a 4H club, no less--but that didn't take, really. My sister eventually took up knitting and crocheting (I have a sweater she made, too, that came back home with her things after she died). What I really took to, though, was the fancy needlework, and I give it away. I generally make something with a particular recipient in mind. Although I've created some simple designs more or less myself, my most common method of working is to find something in another medium and copy it. For needlepoint (which is what I mostly do these days) I make a simple line drawing at the scale I want the piece to be and then trace it onto the scrim. I don't use preprinted scrims. I pick out the colors, using DMC cotton floss (though I've done a few pieces with silk thread or heavier yarn). Somewhere along the line I started combining colors such that there might be as many as four different colors of thread in a six-strand piece.

Pieces I can remember: For an old boyfriend: Pegasus, embroidered on the back of a denim jacket. For Christmas, one year, for my sister, a blue chambray workshirt with big pink poppies embroidered all over the yoke; that same year, for my brother, a blue chambray workshirt with a rainbow coming out of one front pocket, looping over the shoulder and in a circle in the middle of the back, coming back into the other front pocket. A rendition of the Celestial Seasonings Red Zinger box (embroidery). A rendition of the Celestial Seasonings Mandarin Orange box (needlepoint). Alphonse Mucha's "Autumn" (though I left off the breastplates); this one I did on incredibly tiny scrim--maybe 24 stitches to the inch? It took me nearly ten years, though there was other stuff in between, and, by the time I finished it (I started at the top and worked my way down, and I ripped out and redid her left arm at least twice), I had started doing the multiple-colors technique. My three favorite pieces (only two are finished right now) are Georgia O'Keefe's Calla Lillies (three or so, on a burgundy and black background; I can't find an online image anywhere), completed as a wedding present; one of Mucha's Job rolling papers ads, completed for my brother as a wedding present (I was incredibly happy with how this one turned out; I overstitched the needlepoint to get some of the detail. I'll post a picture if I can find one, but I'd have to take a new photo to get the detail); and Georgia O'Keefe's hickory leaves with daisy. That one is a wedding present, too, though (a) it's STILL not done, even though (b) the friends got married 11 years ago. Soon, I hope.


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