Friday, June 29, 2012

My Frankenstein Garden

A few recent commenters have asked about my garden.  

My garden is beginning to frighten me ... it has become the home of mutant giant vegetable plants.  I followed the directions of the Square Foot Gardening method.  Fill your raised beds with organic compost, leaf mold and the like and you can grow more vegetables in a smaller space.  Well, this sounded good to me since I live in a townhouse and have very little space.  In spite of the small space, I want fresh, home-grown organic vegetables.  What I didn't expect was mutant monsters.  The soil is so rich in nutrients that my plants are way beyond anything I have ever seen in my years of gardening.

The two zucchini plants that have the largest leaves I have ever seen on a zucchini plant.  I have noted at least 7 blossoms so far and I expect there will be many more.  I see a lot of zucchini slaw, zucchini bread and zucchini chips in my future.  I will harvest most of the zucchini while still "babies", nice and tender, to steam as a side vegetable. I'll let a few grow larger for things like slaw, zucchini bread or vegetable lasagna.

Tomatoes gone mad
But the really scary stuff is to be found among the tomatoes.  Next year, I will plant just one tomato plant to a square [instead of the multiples recommended in the Square Foot method.  And I will use a stake instead of a cage and I will pinch off the suckers to keep the quality of the fruit superb and the size of the plant manageable even if I have to sacrifice quantity.  My tomatoes are rioting, sprawling, taking over the entire planter box.  I have no clue as to what the final harvest will be.  I'll let you know if the tomato plants start creeping toward the back door.  I think they are conspiring to take over my home, if not the entire world.

So far the only stuff I have actually harvested and cooked with has been the basil and the chives.  I can't find the thyme, it was planted too close to those rapacious tomatoes.  I've got to check to see if the broccoli has gone missing as well.  If I go silent again, as I did in May, it will be because the tomatoes have overrun the house.  Wasn't there a play on Broadway a decade or so ago about a huge Venus Fly Trap?   I could write a sequel to The Little Shop of Horrors!

Unidentified visitor 0 soon to be removed
And then there are the weeds.  Four years ago, my husband and I decided that we wanted a low maintenance back yard.  You know how it is, we are both getting on in years, his arthritis/gout/rheumatism has him walking with a cane at least half the time and I tend to tire more easily than I once did.  So we called in a landscaper to lay a Belgian Block patio and put down that weed barrier cloth covered with two inches of gravel over the remainder of the property.  Every year since we have had some new monstrous weed grow right out of the area where we have the stone.  The first year it was what we suspect was a wild berry plant.  Not surprising, since I had once had blackberry plants in the area and if I remember correctly, blackberries are grafted onto some other berry producing plant.  Okay, we pulled all that up.  The following year we had what looked like hostias on steroids..  And this year, we have these tall leafy stalks.  When I am in my more paranoid conspiracy-theorist mode, I sometimes wonder whether living within a mile of the Indian Point Nuclear Power Plant has anything to do with the horticultural nightmares growing in my backyard.  During my more sensible moments, I consider that this is all just the result of all those early decades when I gardened so faithfully, adding tons of peat moss and organic matter to the rocky barren soil.  Maybe I am my own worst enemy.  And the birds that come to my feeder, perhaps each year they deposit exotic seeds from plant foods consumed elsewhere and generously shared with me.  Just a small thank you for feeding them so well.  

Thursday, June 28, 2012

A Landmark and a Progress Photo

Sometime in that recent three week long desert period during which I failed to blog even once, I passed the 50,000 page views mark  Thus, I think it is appropriate to acknowledge my readers and say how grateful I am for your interest.  I particularly enjoy reading your comments.  I love the feedback since I am a "lone stitcher".  There is no LNS within 45 miles of my home and you have to cross a toll bridge to get to the nearest.  No LNS means no local stitching network.  I have an individual membership in EGA because the nearest chapter meets on a night that I work ten months out of the year and in a place that I boycott on principle, The Palisades Mall [a corrupt boondoggle of a zoning nightmare, destroying wetlands and foisted upon us by venal politicians, in short: a recipe for a huge building collapse and a disaster just waiting to happen.]  Here in the lower Hudson Valley, our politicians don't retire.  They get indicted and then, convicted, instead.  We are a sort of modern day Tammany Hall.  But I digress.   What I started to say was: the blog with its comments constitutes the closest thing I have to a conversation with other stitchers about a pastime I love.

So, thanks for dropping by for a little chat.

Primitive Needle's Black'd Skie  Block 4
On the stitching front, I have been continuing my work on Block 4 of Primitive Needle's Black'd Skie.  Alphabets always seem to stitch up so quickly.  Again, I have made a few changes.  Once an English teacher, always an English teacher!  And it just irks me when letters [the basic building blocks of the language I love] are dropped from the alphabet.  Historicity be damned!  So, I have put back the "J" and moved the remaining letters to the right accordingly.  There will be less room for filler motifs at the end of the numeral row which is now an end of the alphabet and numeral row.  I've shifted the numerals to the far right and plan on placing whatever motifs that fit between the "Z" and the "1".  Then it's smooth sailing, stitching the rest of the text, a bird and a key motif.  At this rate, I may just finish this entire block before June  ends.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

My Last Exchange For A While

I just dropped a long-overdue [nearly a month and a half] scissor keep exchange off in the mail and a slightly overdue [2 weeks] ornament exchange off, as well.  I am finding that I can't rely on my stitching mojo as much as I used to.  I come home from work worn to a frazzle and good for little more than settling down to watch a DVD.  In the morning before work, housework seems to take longer, almost completely eliminating the relaxing hour of stitching before breakfast.  The weekends are either full of errands or scenes of total collapse and vegging out.  And I am reading and gardening more, which cuts into my stitching time.   As I move along into my 60s, there seem to be several shifts taking place.  The upshot is that I am no longer a reliable trading partner and will be retiring from the field.  Lately, what stitching time I have, I want to devote to my projects.  Once, I used to do a lot of gift stitching.  No longer: now I seem to want to stitch only for my own pleasure.  I wonder if everyone goes through self-centered stages like this every so often.  I am thinking that after decades of being a wife, a mother and a teacher,  all roles focused on meeting the needs of others, I am finally demanding a little "me-appreciation" time and it has leaked into my stitching habits as well.  This doesn't exactly make me a kinder, gentler person ... but I do find I am less irritable, which can't be such a bad thing, either.  

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Further Progress: Black'd Skie

Block 4
I am still very focused on this particular piece and am enjoying it thoroughly.  Here I am in the middle of Block 4.  With any luck I shall have this block finished by the end of the week and the entire piece completed by mid-July.  I have switched out a few of the colors on Block 4, using Cinnamon for the entire alphabet.  I didn't quite like the way the letters, as originally charted, mirrored and then didn't mirror the bands separating the rows of lettering.  "Consistency may be the hobgoblin of little minds" but in a sampler I prefer order and, yes, consistency.  So in my version, the lettering is all one color, Cinnamon, and contrasts with all the bands.  And the text below the alphabet is Cauldron, just like the text in Block 1, and as will be the text in Blocks 5 and 6.  Little-minded perhaps, but orderly and pleasing to my personal aesthetic.

I am using the called for silks for this piece, most of which are The Pure Palette Baroque Silk though there are also two Thread Gatherer Silk'n'Colors [Tuscan Olive and Wart Frog] used as well.  The Pure Palette Silks are new to me and I am finding them a joy to work with.  They cover and lay well, are not at all prone to knotting and twisting, and feel lovely and soft in the hand.  At $4.25 for a 15 yd skein, it's hardly outrageously expensive.  The silk separates into three plies, each of which in turn can be plied down to three plies, for a total of nine plies.  For the purpose of working on high count linens, that's 9 x 15 yds which equals 135 yds of silk which works out to approximately three cents a yard.  Compare that to the $7.29 for a 5 yard skein of 12 ply Belle Soie Silk [approximately ten cents a yard when using 1 ply on high count linen] and you have a real bargain.  Now granted, Pure Palette silks are not hand-dyed or over-dyed like Belle Soie and will never replace them in my stash.  But The Pure Palette line has a very nice range of colors and I can see my way to starting up a collection of these silks as well, especially for use on samplers.  I purchased mine by ordering from A Needle in a Haystack, a brick and mortar LNS in California.  They provide excellent phone order service with speedy delivery for those not in the immediate area [like me, 3000 miles on the other coast]

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Primitive Needle's Black'd Skie

Black'd Skies back in May
It's been a long time since I posted about any actual stitching progress ... since mid-May, as a matter of fact. The latter part of May was a near total write-off: long hours at work, too exhausted to stitch when at home, falling asleep in front of the DVD player/TV most nights.  Early June was somewhat better: working on Black'd Skie intermittently ... sometimes for no more than 30 minutes in the course of the day as opposed to my average stitching time of two hours daily.  My pace has picked up a bit this last week though.  Here is what it looked like the last time it was photographed with just the upper band and Blocks 1 and 2 stitched.  You can see Block 2 in its entirety and only a bit of Block 1 but you get the idea.  Well, here it is what it looks like today with Blocks 1, 2 and 3 complete and the outline of the borders of Blocks 4, 6, and 6 sketched in as well as the bottom band stitched.  Either my math was wrong or the fabric count was mislabeled, because I have more blank fabric on the right and at the bottom [having started with my usual to and a half inches in and down at the top left corner.  Since I am using one strand of silk and it is covering very nicely, I suspect the fabric is really a 36 ct rather than 32ct as marked.

Black'd Skie as of 6-23
Most of the time I am a devout rotation stitcher, craving the novelty of something different everyday.  But every so often I go on jags of just wanting to stitch one thing and one thing only.   After such a long period of little or no stitching, I am finding it very restful to pick up the same piece day after day.  None of the pressures of choice, no need to re-focus on something quite different.  For example, the two other pieces in my "current" stitching bag are a Japanese Kogin Tea Cozy, using straight stitches on the despised AIDA and a very colorful band sampler from SANQ, whose next step is a band of strawberries formed with Queen stitches - I think I'll wait a bit longer before tackling that!

Alas, I shall have to start a new project this weekend.  An exchange for which I thought the mailing deadline was 7/4 actually had a deadline of 6/15 and I got one of those dreaded "just wondering how you are doing" e-mails about it.   It's a simple enough project and if I really put mu mind to it, I can have the piece stitched over the weekend and assembled [a very simple sewing finish] by Monday and sent off on Tuesday.   

Friday, June 22, 2012

Tag, You're It

Eva tagged me and asked me the 11 questions below.  I need to answer them, then write up 11 questions of my own, and tag 11 people so they can answer them.  Here goes!

1.  Where is your favorite place to stitch?  In my good old oak straight back chair in front of the TV ... unless, of course, I am on vacation and then it's in a wicker chair on a terrace/porch/lawn overlooking a lake/river/ocean!

2.  What is your favorite shop (brick and mortar or on-line) to purchase your supplies?  Stitchery Row in Endicott, NY [Brick & mortar] and 123 stitch [on-line]

3.  What is your favorite specialty stitch?  Queen's Stitch - they are so pretty and a challenge!

4.  Which specialty stitch do your least enjoy?  any ribbon embroidery stitches ... mainly because it wounds my ego that I can't come up with consistently well made stitches.

5.  French knot, colonial knot or Mill Hill knot?  French knot!

6.  How much stitching time to do get per day or week or month?   I try to stitch an average of 1-2 hours per day

7.  Do you keep a stitching journal and if so, what do you include?  I used to do so but then blogging replaced the need for a journal ... and with pictures, too.

8.  Besides counted cross stitch, what other forms of needlework do you do?  Crewel, embroidery, counted canvas, and hardanger.  I can crochet and quilt and barely knit too, but haven't done any of that that in a long time!

9.  When did you start stitching?  and why?  I started with needlepoint in my early twenties and just went crazy from then on.  I love all textile arts.  I even tried to learn to weave and still have a table-top four harness loom that I will resurrect in my retirement for a second attempt.  My first attempts tended to produce place mats that were 14" wide at one end and 6" wide at the opposite end

10.  Do you rotate your stitching projects or are you a 'one-at-a time' stitcher?  Had you asked me that a month ago, I would have said rotate.  But I am going through one of my "one-at-a-time" jags at the moment, stitching exclusively on Primitive Needle's Black'd Skie for the past two weeks.  Sometimes, a project just grabs me by the throat and won't let go.  In the past, it has almost always been a Teresa Wentzler project that has that effect.  Though, three or four years ago, I spent all of January and February stitching four Sue Hillis "charmed" Santas one after another ... it was the stitching equivalent of chain-smoking.

11.  How many UFOs, and WIPs do you have?  I am in the middle of my year of the UFO Challenge: the Class Projects.  A quick glance at my sidebar will reveal just how many class projects I have started and then abandoned as something flashier caught my eye.  The sad thing is I truly want to finish all but one of these projects and really enjoyed the classes.  Hence I shall work doggedly till I have finished them all.  This may take a year or two, since class projects tend to be BAPs.

Now for my own questions:

1.  Do you enjoy designing projects of your own?  Over the past few years, I have become something of an amateur designer.  Sometimes, it's because I am inspired by a technique or a stitch I have discovered [as was the case with my Fertile Circles Needlebook WIP] or a found object [as was the case with my Beach Find Pansies using oyster shell fragments as the center of the pansies] or just the need to make frugal use of scraps of linen and floss [as in my Riona's Bookmarks design] and sometimes, it's because what I want isn't commercially available [as with some of my Quaker ornaments for my Bride's Tree series].  And at other times, I re-design a chart to make it more my own.  This usually happens with samplers: changing borders, switching motifs, replacing the text.  While I will never be a player on the commercial scene, I do manage to amuse myself.
2.  How often do you find yourself swapping out fibers:solid for overdyed, silk for cotton, etc.?  Very very often.
3.  Do you enjoy using "different" specialty fibers, e.g.: bamboo floss, velvets, silk ribbons, metallics and the like?  For ornaments and such I like a little glitz, so bring on the metallics, the braids and petite velvets.  And for samplers and small seasonal pieces, I really love the soft sheen of bamboo floss, that is when I am not using my favorite silks.
4.  Have you ever stitched on fabrics "outside the box"?  As a seamstress as well as a needleworker, I find I will sometimes use a "sewing" fabric  for needlework, usually gauzes or dressmaking linens or cotton broadcloths [thank God for Ott Lites with magnifiers] or even on burlap and screening. 
5.  Is there any form of needlework that, try as you might, you can't quite master?  For me, ribbon embroidery is always a hit or miss affair.  I frog more than I stitch.
6.  Are there other textile arts on the horizon that you want to explore?  Absolutely: weaving, spinning and knitting.
7.  Is it really necessary to have more than a dozen pairs of embroidery scissors?  Again, absolutely, I feel about scissors the way most women seem to feel about shoes and handbags.
8.  What is your favorite non-framing finish?  That's a tough one.  I make many small seasonal pieces into tote bags.  But I also love small pin pillow or bean bag finishes.  And then there are biscornus.  And I invested in that wonderful scrap booking tool, the Crop-a-dile, so I could make the eyelets in floss tags more neatly.  And what could be more satisfying than a beautifully centered flat finish ornament?  
9.  Do you select your vacation destinations based on the locations of needlework shops and tea shops?  Though this is my husband's deeply cherished belief about me, the truth of the matter is that I always research LNS' and tea shops in the area after he has selected the destination.  Is it my fault that I can almost always find some?
10  If you could plan the very finest of stitching cruises, what would it be like?  Mine would be aboard the American or the Mississippi Queen steamboat and stops would include the American Quilting Museum in Paducah, Kentucky as well as stops at various sites that had impressive displays of needlework throughout American history.  We might start in Kentucky and wend our way to the Mississippi River and from there on to St. Paul.  I  would have several instructors on board so that there would be something for everyone, from wet behind the ears novice to the most snooty elitist.  I would concentrate on North American forms of needlework, both historical and contemporary.    And the food would have to be superb and there would be a three or four course tea served every afternoon and the night-life would revolve around rag-time piano bars and jazz combos.  I would dispense with gambling ... after all who would want to risk losing their stash money?  I might even invite Monica Ferris to stage a stitching mystery night a la the Betsy Devonshire novels one evening.
11. How many stitching blogs do your read daily?  There are about 30 blogs on my reading list but of course, not everyone posts every day, so I would guess I read about ten a day.
BONUS QUESTION. What is your favorite needlework related website?  Mine is the Caron site.  They have such interesting articles about textile articles, beautifully archived.  I do love their projects and free charts.  It is such a dense site with so many menu options that you can easily pass an hour or two on the site before you know it.

Well, that does it for my own questions, now to find someone who hasn't already been tagged and ask them all these questions.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Returning Incrementally

I never did post any monthly goals for May, or for June, for that matter.  It was just as well that I didn't bother, since none of the May goals would have been met.  Very little stitching has been going on since the second week of May.  Indeed, the only piece I have worked on at all has been Primitive Needle's Black'd Skie and even that wasn't much.  The dark green fill [Perfect Palette's Swamp Thing] of the tombstone in Block 3 was boring in the extreme and I barely completed a row a day on those rare days that I picked up the piece.  Things are slowing down a bit at work, though, classes have ended and most of the end-of-year reports and updates have been completed.  Just a few odds and ends need to be cleared up before starting the big push for next September's classes.  So, I'll just set three goals for the remainder of June:
1. Finish up block 3 of Black'd Skie
2. Finish up the scissor keep exchange ... already past due.
3.  Start and finish a Christmas bird ornament exchange ... due in early July.

The heat and humidity have really worn me out, though.  We didn't get our air conditioner window units in till last week, so my husband and I have been suffering with heat-induced lethargy.  The garden on the other hand has been thriving with all the heat and the rain.  The zucchini plants are huge and beginning to climb the trellis.  I already see one nice large blossom.  The broccoli plants are nearly 18" tall at this point and the tomato plants are thriving.  My tomato cages will arrive by Fedex this week and not a moment too soon..  The basil, rosemary and chives are also doing quite well.  I will be planting my second sowing of lettuce this weekend as well as some miniature carrots.

On the personal front, my husband and I have been kitten sitting for my daughter.  As some of my readers may already know, my daughter and my sister-in-law are the co-founders of a Trap-Neuter-Return feral cat management group called Four Paws Good.  Whenever they can catch a litter of kittens early enough, they foster the kittens and find good adoptive homes for them after neutering the little dears.  Well, my daughter had been fostering four very sweet kittens just about the time she was getting ready to move.  She had nursed the runt of the litter through a near fatal bout of pneumonia and the other three through the trauma of having been removed from their mother before weaning [by a well-meaning little boy who thought he was rescuing abandoned kittens] and needed a safe place to keep them throughout her move.  So we have had them for a week and a half ... she'll be taking them home to the new apartment tomorrow.  What have I learned from the experience?  First, that kittens are fearless and more energetic that I could possibly imagine.  I confined them in my dining room using temporary "gates" constructed of window screens and leftover lengths of laminate flooring.  My dining room looks like something out of a 1930's film about hobo camps.  The kittens sleep in a large cage [about 5x3x3] and I do keep them caged while I am at work, for their own safety.  But once I am home, the cage is open and they turn my dining room into a feline gymnasium.  The furniture I thought was flush with the wall is not apparently since these little guys can get behind it, under it, and over it.  The rungs of chairs, the screen "gates" and even the mesh of the cage are just so many Everests to these feline Sir Hilarys.  They have even managed to get up on the dining room table by jumping from stackable baskets to chair seats to table top.  They also play a very rough and tumble form of soccer or rugby with little balls containing jingle bells.  Or maybe I should call it Australian football ... as I said, these little guys are fearless.  The second thing I have learned is that I am not cut out to live with cats.  Even though I have cuddled them only briefly, I have developed rashes and welts and itches.  And cleaning litter boxes has really taxed my already sensitive gag reflex.  My husband says he hasn't heard such extraordinary sounds since the bad old days of morning sickness some 30 years ago.  Lest you think my husband insensitive, I hasten to add that he has taken on the chore of feeding the kittens their "wet" food which I find even more disgusting than the contents of the litter box, if that is possible!  Rowdy, Tumbleweed, Bennie & June are adorable and amusing and very sweet and I wish them well but I will be glad when they go home to my daughter.