samplers

Meanwhile, back in France …

So I’m having my first to-be-for-sale knitting pattern tested, by three lovely and generous knitters, and, to be totally honest, it’s all a little weird! I mean, I spent months poking away at the design, when I had a spare evening here and there, working out the details to create a pattern people could and would want to repeat, and now … nothing. My testers are knitting away, quietly, and there’s not really much for me for to do. It’s like they say about candidates and their staff on election day – all that work and then you just have to sit back and let it take care of itself for a bit. It’s a simple little design, nothing too crazy, but I’m quite fond of it and I hope you will be too. But until it’s ready, there’s nothing to do but wait.

While I do that, I’ve started poking at a new knitting design (which is going freakishly well so far, it’s kind of unnerving) — and I finally figured out how I wanted to play with those antique Sajou monogram letters from the Pattern Maker Charts (etc) blog. I mentioned a little while ago that I’d wanted to stitch one on something, just for funsies, but I couldn’t decide what. Then I had an idea, but it was way too big, too ambitious, and there’s no way I’d have time to do it. But … it was such a good idea! And once you think up a good idea, it’s too late – it’s not like you can unthink it.

So for a few days, I pretended like I might save the idea for another time, but even I knew I was going to do it. Here it is, the beginnings of my antique Sajou sampler …

Sajou Sampler - new project

… I’m introducing it with a flourish because I suspect you’ll get to know it quite well over what will probably be years. This is not a project I can do in a few weeks, more like a big project done one mini-project at a time. I couldn’t decide on just one alphabet, they’re all so lovely, and I thought, ‘wouldn’t it be nice to have time to do letters from all of them, like a sampler?’. Duh. So I’ve gone through all of the Sajou alphabets and picked a list of my favorites, and will semi-randomly pick letters out and stitch them when I have some time here and there.

40cm x 50cm seemed like a goodly size, so I worked backwards to work out the size of each letter and marked it out with one of those aqua trick markers (with just a few calculating / measuring mistakes, whoops – luckily those pens really do wash out with just a dab of water). It’ll be quite a bit larger than a normal sampler, but I wanted it to be pretty big for two reasons: 1.) Needlework is so often small because to cover a big space is, simply, a crap-ton of work. But that tendency makes large needlework pieces unusual and even a little bit incongruous, as if needlework must be tiny and dainty. I love really large needlework and I’ve always wanted to do something bigger – this won’t be as big as I daydream about (one day though, one day I’ll do something massive) but a nice medium-large size will do for now. 2.) A lot of those Sajou letters have tons of wonderful, tiny detail and I didn’t want my letters to get so small that I couldn’t reasonably stitch them. Bigger letters will make it a little easier to get that lovely detail stitched.

My color palette was the last thing to decide on, but I had this kind of dusty purple color in stuck in my head and couldn’t see around it. That sounds like a lovely color, but I’m not really a soft, dainty girl, and I wanted these letters to be antique designs, but pop in a more modern way. Then I saw this amazing dress on Pinterest (pinned by GreenRobynBird before me, others before her) …

… and it was so perfect in every way that I actually gasped out loud. I knew those were the perfect colors for my sampler: vintage, antique-y, very French in a Marie Antoinette kind of way, pretty but not soft. They pop. Just like the colors on this tiny (about 1.5″ tall) perfume bottle thing of my mother’s:

Color Inspiration

(which, as an aside just because it’s adorable and lovely, looks like this inside …

Color Inspiration

… so precious!)

And by a happy embroidery coincidence, I happened to have the exact colors already ready, set aside for a different project that didn’t work out as planned. These are also the colors in my bedroom, so there’s a place it’ll look nice hanging in.

Embroidery Floss, upcoming project

I’m not sure how much I’ll really get to work on this for a while, I’m just about to get stuck into Christmas gift crafting in a big way, but I like that there’s 26+ bite-size projects waiting for me to stitch them up!

In Search of The Modern Sampler

Modern Sampler 1: The Full Set

A while back, I talked about how, in embroidery, it is often the stitches themselves (rather than the image they make up) that interest me. Perhaps a better way to put it is that I feel that stitches, completely on their own, are too often overlooked as a source of beauty and inspiration.

Which is, of course, why I love samplers so very much, but I feel the art of the sampler has become confused somewhere along the way. Formerly a means for young or new needleworkers to show off their stitches and design chops, the sampler has gradually come to mean – almost exclusively – cross-stitched alphabets. These are very often beautiful, don’t get me wrong, and of course wonderful examples of really new and modern sampler work pop up every day. But otherwise, the development of the sampler seems to have stalled a little. The history of the sampler is something I’m extremely interested in, and something I hope to learn more about eventually. In the meantime, I’m especially taken with the idea of samplers finally evolving into something a little more contemporary.

Modern Sampler 1: Reds

This set of mini-samplers came from a failed attempt to start a completely different project with what turned out to be the wrong colors and materials. (I’ll return that idea eventually, it’s on the list.) This idea just popped into my head, fully formed, pretty much immediately upon realizing that the original wasn’t going to pan out, so I quickly gathered up a selection of pearl cotton (from my huge thrifted bag of embroidery stuff). I decided to go with a selection that would give me nice gradual shifts in color.

Modern Sampler 1: Greens

Other than that, there’s actually not a lot to explain about these little samplers. I decided on a finished size, marked off the fabric, sat down with a stack of stitch dictionaries and just starting stitching. I switched colors when it felt right, and just picked each stitch based on what I felt like trying right then.

Modern Sampler 1: Yellows

I obviously don’t have them framed yet but I like the idea of hanging them as a group, laid out as pictured in the top photo of this post, and hanging them in the craft room I hope to have one day. As far as I understand, the very first purpose of samplers was to record stitches and motifs as they were learned – basically a stitch dictionary created in thread. I like the idea of these serving the same purpose up on a wall – a reminder of the amazing variety of stitches that exist out there, just waiting for someone to grab a needle and get started.

Gift round-up: Russian sampler

Ok, next-to-last Christmas-related post, I promise, and this’ll be a short one – there’s not too much to say that I didn’t describe in my original post about this project.

Russian Sampler - finished & framed

Of course I used WAY more thread than I thought I would, but the price total didn’t actually go up, I just kept finding random skeins of DMC 321 all over the house. Seriously, it was like the house was producing them somehow – a couple in my embroidery box where I never keep floss, some in the box where I actually do keep floss, some in a little paper bag that must’ve been holding them for some reason. Freaky.

Russian Sampler - finished & framed

I realized at the very last minute – literally, the evening of Christmas Eve – that I had absolutely no idea how to frame embroidery properly. I started reading methods online and immediately freaked out. I had my charity shop frame, but none of the other supplies needed, and I had no idea how to stretch it properly or keep the glass away from the thread. Oy vey. But it came together, bit by bit, using only supplies found around the house (some high quality illustration board and acid-free double sided tape – some kind of shadow / reflection trickery makes it look a little lumpy in these photos, but I swear it looks smooth-smooth-smooth in real life) and, I hope you’ll agree, it all worked out reasonably well!

Christmas panic: Russian cross-stitch sampler

Although I am totally freaking about finishing my handmade Christmas presents in time, I don’t actually exchange gifts with very many people at the holidays. Aside from my immediate family – parents and brother – there’s only a few. But it’s the family stuff that always causes me to panic for two reasons: 1.) we actually exchange and celebrate on a set day, whereas my gift to, say, my best friend, could be sent a month late and she won’t hate me or anything. I’d rather it be done on time, but it’s not the end of the world if not. And 2.) since we’re all grown-ups now and none of us really need anything, we usually set some sort of rule or limit on our gifts to make it more interesting and just that bit more special. In a way this makes it easier, actually, but it also means you are forced to be more creative and put some serious thought into it.

This year, our rules state that we can only spend £10 per gift receiver (but spending £0 is even better) and the gifts must be either handmade or found in a charity shop. Even for someone who would’ve made the presents anyway and who has a pretty big stash of materials already, it’s not as easy as you’d think!

Russian cross-stitch sampler, WIP

This is my first gift, for my mother who loves Russian history (her family having come from thereabouts way back in the day). I came across the chart quite randomly at the amazing and rather literally named Free Easy Cross, Pattern Maker, PCStitch Charts + Free Historic Old Pattern Books when I was looking for something completely different (I love the internet!). This is the first alphabet shown there; everything on that page comes from a Russian pattern book published in 1899. I love that I get to live in a world where this kind of stuff is made available by nice people – how freakin’ awesome is that?!

Russian cross-stitch sampler, WIP

Anyway, I’m two characters away from finishing the alphabet and then I will pick a border from lower down on that same page to fill out the charity shop frame I bought. I can’t yet decide if it should be a simpler border to let the lettering really shine, or one of the really ridiculously ornate ones. I’m leaning towards the latter since I’m so much further than I expected to be by now, but I’ll also have to see how much room I have in the frame.

So, project expenses?

Evenweave fabric: free, leftover from previous projects
Thread: about £3.50 (I had one skein of red, bought one more and two blacks, though I don’t know yet if I’ll use all of it)
Pattern: free, amazingly
Frame: £2-ish

Total: about £5.50, potentially less once I’m finished. Nice!

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