Still Life from Quimper

Still Life from Quimper
A shot of an almost-completed still life needlepoint

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Friday, January 23, 2009

Needlepoint UFO

Of course, if I have pictures of a project, I just HAVE to have a story with it, no? Well, this one will make all of you stitching (and knitting) procrastinators feel oh so much better.

In October of 1997 (yes, that's the last century), Webmaster Bill and I decided to chuck it all and go to France on vacation. His mother had died earlier that year and he was feeling kind of glum, and I had received a call from my old alma mater that my French professor was leading a group through Paris, same as she had done during my studies there in 1985. We had some extra cash and made arrangements to travel. Meeting up with Annie and Lynn and her students in Paris was just a blast (was I really that young, too?!), and we were treated to a tour of Montmartre and its streets and its vinyards. At last, I paid a lot of attention to what Annie was saying, Bill really enjoyed the knowledge, too, and we had a nice dinner in a nice restaurant, courtesy of the France Program.

Webmaster Bill and I toured the Louvre, just ourselves, which was a blast since my only knowledge of its facade was just after its fire and during the construction of the pyramid, so I only knew a long, high wooden wall while I walked past the courtyard on my way to Art classes inside. The pyramid for all its controversy about its newness and its construction was quite magnificent. We took a tour of the Roman and Greek statuary so that we wouldn't get too exhausted and cranky with each other, and we also toured the Musee de Cluny and another mideval museum mentioned in a Paris tour guide that featured the mideval store signs. No words, just the picture. I was a bit lost trying to figure everything out, since all of the pictures were like nothing I could envision as 14th century commerce.

But I digress. Once we reached the city of Quimper with the lovely Gothic cathedral (even I couldn't get lost in this town!) and its Celtic heritage, Webmaster Bill came down with a bad headache. We won't say the "m" word here, but it was probably something close. So off to an Apothecary to explain headache symptoms in French (why don't they teach this stuff in school??), back to the hotel room, then off to do some shopping on my own. While traversing the city center just before dejeuner, I came upon a needlepoint shoppe and there were more canvases than I could certainly pick from. And I had forgotten that it was time for lunch when everyone shuts their doors for a couple of hours, so I found a nice still-life canvas and went on my way. The open air market was just then closing, too, so I didn't have my pick of chickens for my lunch that day, either. And we're not talking a greasy sandwich or chicken tenders, or even a nice, plump carcass - we're talking the brown-feathered cooking hen standing and clucking, waiting for the cook to come and test its quality. This is one of the things I love about France - all the food is so fresh and the farmers are (were?) very much a part of the process. Not sure how things are going since the E.U. regulations came on the scene - I hear there are protests from the farmers wanting to hold on to their farms and livelihoods.

So, time passed. My canvas sat on top of my record albums, I selected the colors from the DMC wool options that came with the canvas, and we all just waited for time to pass . . .

. . . till last summer when I was working late on Thursday nights, a stitching piece for a customer was coming to a close, and I needed something to work on while the evening progressed. And look what I found! My old, still life canvas, just waiting to be stitched. Popped it onto a Rolaframe, made sure I had all the colors I needed, and hey presto, I was ready. I wish I had stuck with a truer shade of white, as that particular dye lot was a little too cream except in direct light, but there you have it. Here are the pictures:

As is so often the case with these screen-printed canvases, it is sometimes hard to distinguish the circles and the lines for shading or coloring. Once it's stitched, though, the roundness of the apples and grapes looks much truer to form - the eye kind of supplies the missing shapes. And these rust shades are just so much my very favorites, and the purples of the grapes, rather than clashing with the rust, just really stand out as the foreground. I had forgotten, too, how very quick needlepoint is - my first stitching "session" included finishing all the purple grapes and stitching the entire purple portion of the jar.

Ah yes, the copper pot. It's still unstitched by this time (late September) so you can see how the painting of the pot has some overflow from one shading color to another. And the red will present another stitching challenge - is it one vertical row all the way up, or does it become 2 vertical rows at the very bottom, narrowing to 1 vertical row at the very top? These are the predicaments that made me an advocate for hand-painted needlepoint in my shop. I always felt that it takes much more skill and artristry as a stitcher to stitch screen-printed needlepoint, and it was not until now that I could sense the inner chutzpah to say, "Oh, to heck with the light copper - that red needs to show off its red-dishness now, so I will venture into the realm of the light copper." Or the dark lines of the stones - they're cock-eyed if you look at them stitch by stitch, but taken as a whole they look like rustic mortar in between the stones.

Here is the top portion, with the fallen leaves (notice the lovely rust shading on them!), with the grey outlining yarn still in my needle. Just before I began stitching this piece, I pulled some yarn that had been missing from the DMC listings. I used Anchor to supplement the DMC wool, and you know what? I really prefer the twist of the DMC. The Appleton was a little rougher to the hand and as I stitched with it it began to untwist. It's simple enough to fix, really, but I was quite disappointed. With all of the needlepoint book publishers who laud its colors and use it for their oh-so-gorgeous patterns, I found myself quite disappointed with its simple quality when I began to use it. I was happy that you can't tell the difference in the finished piece between Anchor and DMC. But the difference in quality did give me pause.

Finally, here's the stone background. It is possible to tell the difference both in this picture and in the direct sunlight between the white part of the stones and the cream, but the difference is much more pronounced on the canvas and I wish I had gone with my instinct and used a brighter white. Still, the white on the fruits would have been too stark, and the cream is fairly white so the stones won't mind too much.

I really, really like how you can't tell, once it's stitched, where a color or a line was on the printed canvas. I guess it takes some growing up, where the need to emphasize a color does not mean the taking away of another color's "territory." Funny how our minds work when we are younger!

All in all, I'm quite happy with this piece. I was able to find a deep copper of a shade that I had used up while stitching through another shop, and that makes me oh, so happy. I have the top left hand corner to finish before this piece is ALL FINISHED (pictures will follow!), and then I have 2 needlepoint canvases that I bought, literally, 30 years ago. Have I taken them out of their boxes? Yes. Have I put them onto frames to begin stitching? No. But the threads are all ready, the canvases are anxiously waiting, and once I finish some commission stitching, then this piece, I'll be able to start some needlepoint canvases I bought when I was 14 and visiting London with my high school's band trip.

Happy stitching to all!