The Big Reveal

IMG_6633About once every decade or so, I get the urge to tackle a monumental cross-stitch or needlepoint project. I finished a Celtic Lion and Lamb rug designed by Alice Starmore and featured in her book, Celtic Needlepoint (Trafalgar Square Publishing, 1994) in 2005. I think I actually started that rug in 1999, so it was a six-year labor of love.

When it comes to needlework, I tend to work on projects in fits and starts. I’ll stitch steadily for a few weeks, and then I’ll put the project aside for a while—sometimes years. I currently have two projects in progress that I haven’t touched in several months. I’ll eventually finish them, but for now, they’re waiting patiently in a drawer in my craft armoire. When I decided to make a very personal wedding tapestry, though, I didn’t want to drag that project out over a period of months or years. I wanted it to be displayed in our home as soon as possible considering I didn’t even start stitching it until the month after our first wedding anniversary.

I originally envisioned a hanging tapestry finished something like my rug, but I ultimately decided to frame the stitched piece to better preserve it. It is, after all, something that will be displayed in our home for the rest of our lives. Our daughter was very interested in watching this piece come to life, so perhaps it will even become a treasured family heirloom that she can pass down to her own child someday. A mom can only hope…

I documented the progress of our wedding tapestry here, here, and here in case you’re curious about the process. We picked up the finished piece from the frame shop on Valentine’s Day (a happy coincidence), and it’s been hanging above our dining room table ever since. Photographing the piece has proved to be a challenge because the lighting in that area of our apartment is poor, and the conservation glass I selected to protect the tapestry from UV damage is highly reflective. The photo above doesn’t do the finished tapestry justice at all, but it’s the best image we were able to get.

This is, by far, the largest needlepoint piece I’ve ever done in terms of stitch count. I limited the palette to just three colors, which made for a fairly simple pattern, but the stitch count alone (239 stitches wide by 310 stitches high) made it an incredibly labor-intensive project. I never keep track of time when I’m stitching because it’s something I do purely for pleasure. But if I had to guess, I’d say there are over 200 hours of stitching alone in this particular project. That doesn’t include the many hours I worked on the design. It’s the first semi-custom pattern I’ve ever done. I purchased a pattern for the center monogram from New York Needleworks and added our name, wedding date, and a simple border.

Truly a labor of love.

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Itching to Stitch – Part III

Part of my charm is that I’m undaunted by large projects. The bigger the better, really. My proclivity for massive undertakings does present certain challenges in terms of balance, however. This particular project has proved to be more of a full-time job than an evening pastime, I’m afraid. I’m not getting much of anything else done while this project consumes my time, but it’s been fun to watch our wedding tapestry evolve from a cartoon to a nearly finished piece.

Here’s a quick look at the evolution of a needlepoint tapestry.

House of Reamy

Center monogram pattern designed by Marlene of New York Needleworks.

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As I approach the home stretch on this needlepoint project, I’m already thinking about my next big project, which is to set up an online store for my jewelry. And of course I have tons of ideas for jewelry that I’m anxious to create.

 

 

 

Itching to Stitch – Part II

WP_20141215_002It took months to locate the materials for our wedding tapestry. During that period between the completion of the final design and the day that my specially ordered wool arrived, it never really occurred to me just how monumental a project this really is. The finished pattern is 239 stitches wide by 310 stitches long. That’s 74, 090 individual stitches, not including the finishing hem and tapestry loops, which I haven’t figured out yet. By my estimation, I’ve completed less than a quarter of that project so far, but I am enjoying every minute and every stitch.

I’m the sort of person who likes to take on large projects. As a kid, I always gravitated to the most complicated jigsaw puzzles with the largest number of pieces. I’ve single-handedly tackled two full house remodels. Well, three actually, but I abandoned the third project when I moved to Denver and married my husband last year. As I understand it, the couple who bought that house from me successfully completed the work I started and have since settled in comfortably.

During my corporate drone period, I was the person who inevitably ended up taking on the big, messy projects that everyone agreed were necessary, but no one wanted to own because the effort to accolade ratio wasn’t high enough. These were huge projects that took years to complete. I once developed a routine network maintenance program for a massive satellite communications network that covered the entire state of Alaska. While working for that same company, I later spent over two years rebuilding an entire database of thousands of circuit layout records that were lost due to a poorly planned migration from one database system to another. I suppose you can say I have a high tolerance for tedious work.

I remember a conversation I had once with a man I dated briefly in 2010. I was working on a different stitching project at the time, and he made sort of a snide remark about how much time I “wasted” stitching. I pointed out to him that the time I spent stitching was essentially the same amount of time that he spent sitting at a bar, drinking beer and talking about nothing in particular with whomever happened to sit on the stool next to him. At the end of the day, I was creating something lasting and concrete in my spare time while he was merely killing time and brain cells. To his credit, he acknowledged that I was right. He even curbed his drinking and started a fitness program for a while after that, but it wasn’t long before he returned to his comfort zone and we parted ways.

The point I suppose I’m trying to make is this: how you choose to spend your time is important. Are your chosen pastimes creative or destructive?

Do you have something positive and concrete to show for your efforts at the end of the day?

Are you spinning wool with which you can knit a sweater, or are you just spinning in drama by picking fights with your spouse or kids?

Are you cooking wholesome and healthy meals from fresh ingredients for your family, or are you mindlessly shoveling commercially processed junk food into your mouth while staring blankly at your TV?

How you choose to spend your time is important. I can’t stress that point enough.

I’ve always instinctively appreciated processes more than the outcomes. The moment I finish one large project, I find myself immediately seeking out the next one because it’s in the midst of the work—whatever sort of work it might be—where I find peace and contentment. Whether I’m stitching, making jewelry, or untangling a massive snarl of digital data records, I’ve noticed that I tend to settle into a steady, meditative rhythm as I work. And it’s there in that rhythm that I feel most connected to my source.

I believe that we’re all designed to be creative. The idea that some people are creative and others are not is utter nonsense. We’re all creative at our core. When creative energy isn’t allowed to flow naturally, however, it can easily turn destructive. And that destructive energy manifests in ways that beget more destruction. Substance abuse, violence, drama… these are all cycles of destructive energy that are completely unnecessary, and they can be eliminated merely by redirecting that energy into some sort of creative channel.

Life is short. Find a creative outlet for your spare time. Spin wool instead of drama. Sculpt clay instead of shaping political discourse. Carve wood instead of driving wedges between yourself and your loved ones. Take up competitive archery instead of shooting barbed insults at those with whom you don’t agree.

There’s an infinite well of peace and joy to be found in the creative process. It’ll change your life. I guarantee it.

Itching to Stitch

House of ReamyI’ve loved the needle arts since I was a little girl when my grandmother first taught me some basic embroidery stitches. Since then I’ve completed dozens of cross stitch and needlepoint projects—most of them from kits or books. My largest and most ambitious project to date is a cross stitch rug that is approximately 3’ x 5’. The rug, which depicts a Celtic lion and lamb, is designed by Alice Starmore and is featured in her book, Celtic Needlepoint (Trafalgar Square Publishing, 1994). That rug hangs on a tapestry rod above the TV in our living room presently, and it’s one of my most treasured pieces of personal art.

Last year when my husband and I got married, I decided I wanted to stitch a personalized tapestry to commemorate our marriage. After weeks of toying with design ideas, I ultimately settled on the design pictured here. I purchased the pattern for the center monogram from New York Needleworks, and then I added our name, marriage date and a border using PCStitch. It’s my first semi-custom design, and I’m dying to finally begin stitching.

It took quite a long time to gather the materials necessary to complete this project. It’s been many years since I completed my needlepoint rug, so I was blissfully unaware that the original manufacturer of Paternayan wool (my favorite needlework yarn) had gone out of business not long after I purchased the wool to complete the rug project. As luck would have it, however, a new manufacturer, Saco River Dyehouse, recently began reproducing this gorgeous wool. I managed to locate a wonderful local retail supplier for the new Paternayan wool. The timing of my itch to stitch a new needlepoint project and the renewed production of my favorite wool is truly remarkable. I was amused to discover that nearly all of the wool in stock at my local supplier was from dye lot 001.

Needlepoint is sort of a bastard art in the United States. It’s far more popular in Europe, so it’s not always easy to locate materials here in the US. If you or anyone you know is looking for a reliable source for stitching supplies, I highly recommend A Stitching Shop. Ask for Christine and tell her I sent you. She caters to several stitching disciplines, she carries a fantastic range of products, and her customer service is truly exceptional.

Life is short. Do something you love, no matter how long and hard you must search for the perfect materials. The challenge of locating the materials to stitch this very personal piece makes this tapestry even more special for me and my husband. Now that I finally have all the materials I need and I’ve nearly finished graphing the canvas, I can hardly wait to start stitching.