A Gift for my Fairy Godmother

I hadn’t planned on any further Postal Patchwork experiments just yet, Postal Patchwork greensbut I had a reason to sneak this one in between some other projects.  I’m about to disappear off to Ireland for a few days to visit my aunt, who is also my godmother (I call her my Fairy Godmother, although I’m not sure how much she appreciates that…) and wanted to take a small gift with me.  So I chose greens for the Emerald Isle (and also because I’m pretty sure she is fond of greens) and pieced together this little notebook for her.

This notebook is obviously not for sale; however, this particular patchwork design used halves of 18 different stamps (which means I have 18 matching halves remaining) and thus its inverse twin will probably become available not long after my return.  I’m also seeing that almost-tree shape as a potential future Christmas card design (perhaps contrasted against a splash of red)…


Corey is away for the weekend, so I am luxuriating in having a couple of decadent evenings to myself.  What am I up to?  Well, I’m about to make myself a cheese & pickle sandwich, and am otherwise having an evening off from ‘work’ and just browsing online.  That’s very rare!  And after I’ve made my sandwich, you know what else I might do?  I might actually switch off the laptop and read a novel for a couple of hours.  I’ve not done that for ages!  I know what you’re thinking: this girl’s life is just one long, endless party…  No?  Yeah, I know; it’s not the most exciting evening I’ve got lined up, but  I’m looking forward to it, anyway.

zentangleOh yes, nearly forgot the reason I stopped by here!  The reason was ‘Zentangles’.  I suspect, as with most things, I am way behind the times with this one, but just in case you’re in the dark like I was, it appears to be ‘doodling with intent’ (rather than in absentia) – hence the zen part of the name – and then (because they do look pretty cool) calling them art.  It’s not just the ‘tangle’ part of the name that attracts me (honest).  I had a flick through the gallery (see pic, right) at the official website, and a lot of the patterns just reminded me of the kind of doodles I actually do.  Therefore it didn’t strike me as something that would take an enormous leap for me to grasp the gist of.  And looking through the gallery, I also thought the black & white patterns would lend themselves well to relief printing.  I’m feeling slightly more confident in my lino-cutting skills these days, but drawing isn’t really my thing, and I hit a kind of stumbling block (no pun intended) in terms of new projects & design inspiration.  If I can get away with adapting my doodles, I will be very happy!

Now, the Zentangles website gives lots of background information about how great & therapeutic it can be for the soul, and all that kind of new age stuff, but it’s very thin in practical advice when it comes to getting started – mainly, I would guess, because they sell a $50 starter kit, and they want people to buy it, rather than think they don’t need it.  Personally, I would rather test out the principles of the concept before shelling out $50 on yes, very nice, high quality materials, but really not essential to the practice itself.  Having said that, the website does include a free online newsletter which gives clear guidance on ‘learning’ particular filling patterns, and where to find doodling inspiration etc.  But if, like me, you read through the website and can’t quite see how to get started, you might also appreciate these posts on Crazy Art Girl’s site, which demonstrate a beginner’s zentangle from start through to completion.  It really clarified the concept for me, anyway.

I bought a cool notebook from Bad Day Ben Designs on Etsy a few months back, with good thick quality paper pages measuring 2.5 x 3″ each – I think I might have just found the perfect use for it…!  I’ll let you know how my Zentangle explorations progress…

Oh, one more note ‘Zentangle’ is a trademark name, and I think refers to the method they use to teach the Zentangle doodling technique (hence $50 for starter pack).  However, you can also find references to similar stuff with a google search for the more general ‘zen doodle’.  There are ‘zen mandalas’ which are similar, too.

Bobbin Along – another freeform bargello experiment

Bobbin Along Bargello (freeform) (c) TangleCrafts 2008
Bobbin Along Bargello (freeform) (c) TangleCrafts 2008

It’s another WIP, as (once more!) I have run out of the thread I need to complete the border…  I am also still at the mercy of a temperamental printer/scanner but I’m trying to work around it!

This design posed some interesting challenges for me, although I had learned from ‘Marble Waves’.  I was careful to stretch the bobbin ‘thread’ to fill the first triangular quadrant of the design, so that there would be fewer issues where the mitred corners of the 4-way design meet.  It is still by no means a smooth transition but I think the ‘swooping’ nature of the curves disguises the inconsistency reasonably well, and (by default) actually creates a nice, almost overlapping 4-way pattern when viewed from a slight distance.

Stitching this design prompted various ideas for variations, which I will hopefully have time to explore at a another time.  I like the way a ‘sheet’ of bargello appears to drop behind another bargello wave that crosses in front of it, a result of the ‘thread’ twisting over and around itself.   I think this effect would be emphasised if I worked it on a bigger cut of canvas, increasing the size of the ‘thread’ swirls.  I think it would also be interesting, if working the piece to a larger scale, to make the bargello following the contours of the ‘thread’ into a ribbon of bargello, rather than continuing downwards o fill the quadrant, as it currently does.  This would leave more of the plain, geometrically striped background visible, and add emphasis to the curves contrasting against it.

I also wondered about using a different colour scheme either for the bargello or the plain background.  Again, I think this would only really work if the piece were larger, and more of the background visible.  But the bargello could be in shades of pink-to-plum, to match the bobbin ‘thread’, against a background of contrasting moss-green shades.  I think this would work best combined with the bargello-as-ribbon idea.

Stitching this design has also kick-started the idea for my next design project.  I added the whipped backstitch ‘thread’ in pink as the last step of the central panels, so before it was added, I could just see the green curves against green curves.  Perhaps largely because they were in green (!) this made me think of rolling hills, which prompted me in the direction of a bargello landscape.  This is not exactly a new idea – one of my very first bargello projects was ‘High Desert Stars’ by Iona Dettelbach (shown right), a chart distributed by Rainbow Gallery (click here for my review of Iona Dettelbach’s latest bargello book) – but it set me to thinking about it, and I have something semi-visualised in my head that I am looking forward to realising in stitch.  I’m not sure yet if it will be a 4-way design, like the others (so far) in this series of freeform bargello experimentation.  I’m considering a panelled piece.  But we’ll see how it develops…  Watch this space!

Oak Leaf Panel – finally completed!

It hasn’t taken me quite as long as it might seem to complete stitching this piece – lack of time aside, I have also been battling with an ailing scanner/printer.  Bless it’s little cotton socks, I managed to sweet-talk it into working for long enough to scan in my updated Oak Leaf Panel (but it is still being temperamental).  Anyway…:

Oak Leaf Panel (c) TangleCrafts, 2008
Oak Leaf Panel (c) TangleCrafts, 2008

My original plan was to stitch a decorative border around the outer edge.  However, I decided that as there was already quite a lot of movement in both the motif and the background that might make it all look a little too busy.  So I opted for simplicity, instead, and I think this plain border provides a good contrast to the myriad curves contained within it.

(I do like the oak leaf border (not shown), though, and may include the chart within the kit as an optional extra, to be added or not at the discretion of the stitcher.  It could also be stitched as a bookmark, which I may do myself at some point.)

The sense of undulation in the freeform bargello background reminds me of fabrics from the 60 and 70s; but I think the heightened sense of movement is also a result of using overdyed threads with tonal changes along their length, but without dramatic tonal difference between the three different threads used.  I normally make my bargello choices in a more pronounced light-to-dark colour scheme, but I like the slightly different effect my alternative choice has created.

The intention is that this will be the first of a series, exploring the different patterns created by different shaped leaves (etc).

Freeform Bargello – ideas & inspiration

Thanks to Janet Perry & her blog for alerting me to this very cool concept in freeform bargello, designed and stitched by Terry Dryden: Pear design.

Lots of bargello patterns create a 3D optical illusion, but it had never occurred to me until seeing this WIP to use freeform bargello in terms of shading for a pictorial design.  It would work for 3 dimensions in less fluid, geometric patterns, too, if you wanted to stick with a more formal bargello filling.

I really love this idea.  I feel some experimentation coming on…!

Freeform Bargello WIP

The long train journeys yesterday gave me the luxurious opportunity to actually spend some time stitching, so I started working on the canvas work (/needlepoint) adaptation of my Noro knitting wool oak leaf design (see earlier entry for pic).  This time I used 18ct canvas and Carrie’s Threads 6-ply cotton, which has given me a little more flexibility with the design, in terms of both colours and stitches.

I’m really pleased with the ‘knobbly’ effect of the acorn cups, and I think the purples work well as a contrasting background colour to the autumnal greens.  I’m stitching the background area in freeform bargello.  By this I mean that instead of following a fixed, charted (or standard) bargello pattern, I have actually used the base lines of the oak leaves as the starting bargello line, so that the background complements the foreground & emphasises its natural contours, rather than detracts with an entirely independent pattern.  In terms of bargello, I am ignoring the acorns, and just following the contours of the leaves to avoid unnecessary complication in the pattern.

It’s a very relaxing form to work, as once the central design has been stitched (which in itself doesn’t take an incredible amount of reference to the chart given its 4-way repeat) there’s no need to refer to a chart at all – you literally just stitch the bargello around the outer edge of the leaves.  I stopped after 2 rows, as I need to work out the placement of the border before I continue – but it was an ideal project to work on while travelling.

Oak Leaf Panel with Freeform Bargello Background, (c) TangleCrafts 2008
Work in Progress: Oak Leaf Panel with Freeform Bargello Background, (c) TangleCrafts 2008

I must confess I am a little annoyed with myself, as I got married earlier this year, and the theme of our wedding stationery was oak leaves (based on a verse about the oak and the cypress from Kahlil Gibran that we used in our vows).  I had wanted to stitch a design to use, but at the time – with all the other wedding organisation pressures – I just didn’t have the time or inspiration.  In the end, I drew a design, instead, which is – actually, essentially, anyway – a freeform bargello design, and we used the coloured ink drawing onthe stationery, instead.  I’m annoyed now, because I seem to have oak leaf stitch patterns practically dripping from my fingers – I just couldn’t do it at the time when it would have been quite appropriate.  Still, it doesn’t mean I can’t go back to the wedding stationery design and re-interpret it for stitch now, and I hadn’t thought about that until I began writing this, but I think, actually, I will.    That’s that settled, then!

Thoughts about stitching with overdyed threads

I always stitch with overdyed threads.  I do this because I like them.  I love the serendipity of the colour placement, and the fact that a piece stitched from the same pattern will be different every time.  If you have a symmetrical design, you can take care with the threads (sometimes starting a new length before you have finished the last) so that the colours fall in the same place on a mirrored image, or you can just stitch as the thread comes and see what happens.

I think I’m unusual in that I ONLY stitch with overdyed threads, but at the same time, I do appreciate from a design perspective that a plain/solid colour can be the best way to enhance and complement an overdyed shade.  But there are so many types of overdyed threads around these days that I can get around this.  Some overdyed threads have quite dramatic, contrasting colour changes; others are far subtler, and often only have very minor variations within one shade of the same colour (sometimes not even as dramatic as light to dark).  Therefore, I simply pair a more dramatic colour scheme with one in a shade of minimal contrasts, and then neither shade is compromised.  Subtle shades can usually be stitched together without danger, but more dramatic colour combinations stitched within one piece can either clash, or just look messy.    Serendipity is one thing, but the point of design is to harness a thread’s special features, and makes its character workfor, rather than against you.

Which brings me to my point, really.  Now personally, I’m not a big stitcher of cross stitch (although I have done quite a lot in the past) but I do enjoy designing cross stitch, and I love to see the finished results – especially if someone else has done the stitching!  BUT when I create a design, I visualise in my head how it would look if I had stitched it myself.  When we are talking about overdyed threads (which we are) and somebody else stitching the design, it would be rare for a stitcher to automatically stitch it in the same way that I would myself and therefore come close to my visualisation.

This leaves me with something of a quandary.  Should I give the model stitcher guidance on how I would like the finished piece to look?  I have decided yes, I should.  Because although everyone else who stitches the design might stitch it in a different way and therefore have a different visual end result, at least I have demonstrated the design as it matches my own vision.  But then, should I give the same guidance within a kit so that subsequent stitchers can replicate the design as closely as possible to the model stitcher’s version?  Or should I leave out the additional stitch guidance, and allow the stitcher to make her own choice of style?

My instinct is to go with the latter as I don’t like to be dictatorial, nor do I want to encourage stitchers to be sheep, capable only of replication and not original thought.  The tagline to my business name, TangleCrafts, is ‘Explore, experiment, enjoy!’ because that is exactly what I want people to do.  We are talking about creative people – those people who, in their leisure time, simply want to create.  Of course I shouldn’t talk down to them.

The quandary lies in the fact that many people see a design and buy a kit because they DO want to replicate it exactly.  If I have left the design unguided, then I have given the stitcher the choice of whether they wish to replicate or innovate.  But I have hereby made the assumption that they already have the relevant knowledge in order to make that informed decision.  Given an unguided design, it is possible they will neither know how to translate it into the cover design they have seen, nor how to put their own stamp on it.

So then I feel obliged to include the guidance, which is probably what you think I should have thought all along.  This then leaves me with a choice of exactly what guidance to inlude:

1.  ONLY chart with guidance on how to replicate the cover design.

2.  Chart with replication guidance PLUS a chart for the same design that is open to individual interpretation.


3.  Chart with replication guidance PLUS an open interpretation chart PLUS guidance in potential different ways to interpret the design.

Perhaps I am overthinking this – it is something I do.  But I think it’s an important decision to make, because the information I include within a kit sends a message to the person who buys it.  Having been pondering this whole thing lately, I am more or less decided.  My kits will include information to the level of point 2 above.  I wouldn’t be happy only providing the information of how to replicate the design, nor would I think I had done my job as a designer if I hadn’t told them how to.

Take look at the ‘Tiffany Acorns’ photo I have added below.   My model stitcher, Shari, followed the guidance I provided to the letter, when she stitched this kit.  Notice how the acorn pattern is echoed within itself, emphasising ts curved contours.  Imagine how different this design would look if it had been stitched from left to right, right to left, leaving the effect of horizontal stripes.  By no means am I saying ‘my way of stitching is better’; simply that the method of stitching makes a difference to the overall appearance, and in design terms, this must be taken into account.

But rather than overload my kits with excess information – because this is an issue that is relevant to more than one of my designs, but individually, they are only small –  I think I am going to produce a separate booklet.  This would in essence be a beginner’s guide to cross stitching with overdyed threads, but would include some ideas for moving on a step for those stitchers already familiar with the techniques.  It would also include a selection of sample patterns to practise what it preached!  I could then market the booklet alongside the relevant kits, giving the individual stitchers the choice of whether they think they need the extra information or not.  For me, I think this is an ideal compromise!

I have ideas for various stitch techniques that would give basic information on ‘how-to’ and then progress to next-step development – basically, ideas to encourage and inspire stitchers to think creatively, rather than to be limited by charts and instructions.  Amongst other things, I’m thinking about freeform and 4-way bargello, and graduated/shaded blackwork.  Perhaps once all the individual thought-booklets have been produced, I could look at trying to get them published, but bound as one entire book – ‘Stitching Outside of the Box’.  What do you think?

I think counted thread embroidery can get a bit of bad press from the ‘arty’ embroidery community, but really, it can be every bit as creative.  We stitchers are creative people, let’s celebrate that!

A cross stitch design, (c) TangleCrafts, 2008
Tiffany Acorns ~ A cross stitch design, (c) TangleCrafts, 2008.