quite a few of you last week wrote to ask for more details on the red work embroidery that has held my attention through the short days and long nights of this cold winter. i thought i'd share with all of you the inspiration behind my latest project (a long completely hand stitched scarf of vintage muslin). last october, i received a wonderful birthday package from a fellow fabric artist friend, lorri scott of LAS fibers. lorri knows of my own passion for textiles, for hand stitching, and send a box filled with goodness: the vintage redwork stitched linen tablecloth i keep on my dining table, another soft vintage cotton white tablecloth for project work, a crisp cellophane packet filled with rolls of my favorite perle cotton #8 in a beautiful deep red, a bundle of new fabric that looks old (printed with what resembles something that has been dipped in tea), and a wonderful book of redwork projects by author and needlework artist kathy schmitz. i was touched by lorri's generosity, and love the projects that kathy designed for the book.
since i was going to be traveling by plane across the country to teach at French General, i decided to carry something with me for idle hours on the plane. in typical fashion, i didn't plan ahead, and the night before the trip simply pulled out some vintage thrifted muslin, tore it into the length and width of a long two foot scarf, then packed it along with small embroidery scissors, needle, ample thread, and a wooden embroidery hoop into my old red canvas tote bag. five hours in an airplane seat next to the window seemed like a gift of time, and i loved quietly working an easy running stitch to hem the length of muslin. when i saw from the screen map in front of me that we were flying over the four-corners area of new mexico, colorado, arizona and utah, i noted it in the hem with a tiny cross stitch in red. the grand canyon sprawled below my window as well; with that, i sewed an awkward little dip that to anyone else, would look like a seamstress misstep.
much like my jewelry work, i'm not striving for perfection; i aim for enjoyment and comfort with every dip of the needle, every pull of that red thread. long winter nights are a luxury to me, this way; i sit in my easy chair pulled up close to the fire, and have to force myself to put the stitching down when the clock hand moves quickly past 1am. once the hemming was completed, i worked on filling either end with words and imagery. my mother drew a bird onto a separate patch of muslin to cover the pathetic one that i had attempted to draw onto the scarf; like a fabric band aid, it has become a lovely focal point, with multiple running kantha stitches in ecru to fasten it securely down. the quote i drew and stitched below the bird is one of my favorites, from poet t. s. eliot. and at the opposite end, i've stitched another of my mother's sketches - this time a nest, to which i've added the beginnings of branches and leaves. and in between the bird and its nest, i've run that wandering needle back and forth, up and down, creating rows of winding, curling vines and fiddleheads and leaves. every bit of those vines and leaves are placed without the guidance of a drawn image underneath, much like a true vine that decides its own direction. i love the sense of freedom that this brings - the aimless red threads winding and stretching and twisting into a pattern that will eventually be casually wrapped around my neck and at my throat ... a garden in red, wild and loosely unkempt, much like i can often be. because there are so many, many little knots on the underside of this piece, i plan to fasten a lining of ruby colored vintage cashmere, cut from a sweater dress i found in a thrift store ten years ago. it will be removable, thanks to antique silk covered snaps. at least that is my plan for now. we'll see. for those of you who feel like you'd enjoy working on a project of your own in red, you might want to purchase the redwork project book to transfer some of kathy's designs onto fabric for guidance, or perhaps you would enjoy working as i have, quite randomly. i would suggest that you make the artwork your own original design by adding quotes that you like, by stitching a garden or a house or a winding road, perhaps a row of winter bare branched trees. everything looks good, to me, in red; but white on white is lovely as well, or black on cream. i wish there were time to do nothing but this, all winter long; i wish i could do nothing but stitch my quiet winter life away, but work and income call, always.
for reference - the thread i prefer is perle cotton #8, which comes in sweet little rolled balls. these tend to roll under a chair when dropped, so beware of kittens and dogs who like to chew and eat non edible goods. i order mine from this seller on etsy. the muslin, as i mentioned earlier, is vintage and a nice deep cream color; i was fortunate enough to unearth a six yard remnant of it at a local thrift store for all of $4.00, a good buy that made me very happy. go check out your thrift stores and see if they have remnants of cloth, or big cotton shirts that you could cut up to use for your base. i found a heavy wool piece, once a u.s. navy blanket, that had been cut into the shape of an ironing board; from this, i've fashioned a lovely little needle book for my son roy's lovely girlfriend. projects coming up? i'm excited about a trip i'll be making to vermont next week, where i'll join other instagrammer crafters for a wonderful three day weekend spent learning rug hooking (among other things) from the uber talented charlotte lyons and her equally talented friend meleen. we'll stay in two side by side cottages and stitch, explore, eat, shop, stitch some more. a treat for me, indeed. xo