Thursday, February 28, 2008


I'm not sure if it's the plethora of snow we've been getting -- three inches more last night, and at least six inches more on the way tomorrow night -- but I had completely missed out on the fact that I'd been tagged by my friend Elizabeth:

What if you had a $100 gift card to the music store of your choice, what would you buy??

I don't know. I honestly don't know. We have just about all the music we want, between us. That said, I could put at least some of it to good use on sheet music; I'd love to have The Girl with the Flaxen Hair, by Claude Debussy, and it would just be interesting to have the score of Rachmaninoff's Second Piano Concerto and/or Second Symphony on hand so I could follow along when listening.

Otherwise, I'm drawing a complete blank, at the moment. I think that finding out that yet more snow is on the way has just put a cap on my mental processes; I'm going to have some chocolate ice cream, and then have dinner, and then curl up with my cross stitch and Law & Order on the TV, and vegetate till spring. Jim's out of town till tomorrow, so at least I don't have to cook for him. And a good thing, too, in my current state.

So How Do You Actually Work This?

I seem to be getting myself in deeper and deeper -- Suzanne was wondering how I keep track of all those different colors. This is an earlier photo that shows it best.

First, you grid. Some people actually have the patience to stitch a 10 x 10 grid onto their fabric. I don't; I work the first ten stitches in any given row, then use a washable dress-pattern marker to plot the grids. And as you can see from this photo, I only do the grid I'm working on, and leave little "tails" of marker at the end so that when I'm finished with that grid, I can lay out the next grid and know that it will be 10 x 10.

Having done that, I am also fanatical about marking off each row of ten stitches as I work it. I really would go crazy otherwise.

And the final thing I do to keep track of all the colors and threads -- and the reason I chose this photo -- is that I "park" stitches. I only work ten stitches at a time, straight down the row. Sometimes a row will contain as few as three colors, other times, every single stitch is a different color. When I work a stitch, I look ahead in that row to see where the color will occur next, and bring the needle up in that stitch. If it won't occur again in that row, I look ahead to the next row, and if I see that color symbol in the next row, I'll bring the needle up in that stitch and "park" the thread there until it's needed again. If it doesn't occur in the next row, I'll scan the entire grid to see where it shows up next.

Sometimes it doesn't occur again until much later in the project, and in that case, I do finish off the thread and wrap the leftover around the skein of floss, where it stays until I need it again. I finish off using something called a "pinhead stitch": Since cross-stitch fabric consists of little holes, you can bring the thread up in between two holes -- crosswise or lengthwise, according to the weave of the fabric -- and push the needle back down smack in the middle of the little square. Then you bring it back up on the other side of where you've made your "pinhead," and push it back down in the middle of the little square again. Then you pull it tightly. Once you get the hang of it, you can actually make the pinhead stitch nearly invisible, because it buries itself in the middle of the square.

To start threads, it depends on whether or not they're leftover from earlier working. If I have two strands left over from where they were worked before, I'll start with the pinhead stitch, too. If not, I cut an extra-long length, fold it in half, and push both ends through the eye of the needle; bring the thread up through the hole of the first stitch, but not all the way, and back down into the cross-point of the stitch (looks like / ). Then, as I'm bringing the thread back down, I guide it through the loop left hanging when I pulled the thread up, and then pull tight. It's called the "loop method" of starting. Some people frown on it because there is supposed to be a shiny side to thread and a dull side, and using the loop method means that you're working with both a shiny thread and a dull thread, so to speak. But I have never been able to distinguish which is which, so I just go on my merry way. Hey, it's my cross stitch. ;-)

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

How a Cross Stitch Resembles a Painting

Suzanne was noting that she didn't know how shading could be accomplished with threads, so I thought I'd attach a photo of what one of these charts looks like.

The different colors of markers on this chart are an invention of mine so that I would know how much I got done on any given day. Purple is Sunday, Yellow is Monday, Orange is Tuesday, Blue is Wednesday, Red is Thursday, Green is Friday, Pink is Saturday.

It doesn't show very clearly, but each of those black blobs at the bottom -- the unmarked portion of the chart -- is a different symbol, and each symbol represents a floss color. The largest manufacturer of flosses, DMC, has a range of close to 4,000 colors; I've never seen a project with all 4,000 colors (egad), but the blend of all those colors is how you get that painterly effect.

I forgot to mention that this Saturday, my church is starting up a needlework group for the ladies of the parish -- women have been invited to bring their knitting or embroidery, and the idea is just to carve a space out of the month (first Saturday of each month) to get together and make time to work on projects, and hopefully, make some new friends in the parish. I bet I will be the only one to show up for a few months, though I might be surprised.

Updates, of one sort or another

Someone was kind enough to ask about my progress on my latest cross-stitch project. So here it is. In terms of being the "latest" project, actually, it's one of the older ones -- I've been saying I started it in 2004, but I looked at all my progress photos and I actually started it in 2005 -- anyway, it's been around long enough, and it's Time to finish it, by Christmas, I hope. So this is my focus piece for the year. I have 40 more rows to go, and it will be 40% completed. I am learning so much about art composition from working this piece -- it intrigues me, for example, how the color rises at an angle, and how very many different colors go into just one 10 x 10 section. At any given time, I can have as many as 40 floss bobbins available to work with.

Last night, we got another six inches of the white stuff dumped on us -- and then we got rain on top of that. Have you ever tried to shovel six inches of wet snow?! This is what they call "widow-maker" snow, and all I can think is, I wish my doctors could see me slogging my way through this stuff -- I bet my heart is healthier than theirs, if I can handle this c**p. (Oh, dh is out of town again. I am so tempted to write his boss and say, "If you want him to travel in the middle of winter, then you, or whoever is ordering this travel, should come up here and shovel this stuff out of my driveway." Grrrr.)

And I had a sweet note from my priest -- I had sent him a clip from Fr. John Whiteford's blog about Holy Trinity Monastery in Jordanville, and he responded, "What a wonderful town! We really should organize a trip there!" He has no idea just how wonderful Jordanville is. (If you click on the clip on Father John's blog, you do have to slog through about 4 minutes of trivia about Jordanville before you get to the "main event," the monastery.) Any time I see photos of the church, it's like looking at photos of an old and greatly beloved home.

Poor Father Costin, by the way, has come down with chicken pox. His older daughter brought it home from school, and about two weeks ago we were talking about it and he said, "Oh, yes, I have had chicken pox. I think I have had chicken pox." And right then, I knew he hadn't. Well, he's got it now. He still plans to be in church on Saturday for the First Saturday of Souls, but I told him not to come if he is feeling the least bit tired -- this isn't anything to play games with. Why do kids think they're indestructible!!!