Needlepoint: A favorite social distancing pastime...
McNeill here, hoping that this post finds you and your loved ones healthy and as calm as current events allow. Keeping my hands busy is one way I'm maintaining my own calm, and needlepoint is my usual craft of choice--outside, whenever possible! :)
A Family (Crafting) History
My mother has always been creative, and as a kid I loved to raid her boxes and baskets of supplies and dream up ideas for them. She had loads of fabric from various sewing projects (including plenty of mother-daughter matching outfits, Halloween costumes, window valances, and even one of my homecoming dresses), yarn for crocheting and needlepoint, stencils and craft paint. The smell of Mod Podge still takes me immediately to the Christmas where she decorated baskets with these dramatic starched bows made from printed fabrics.
I'm lucky enough now to live with several of her needlecrafts, my favorite of which is a beautiful Parisian street scene in crewelwork (above, and detail below right). Just next to it on the wall is a counted cross stitch she designed to match some fabulous 70's bamboo patterned wallpaper. In our bedroom is another of her cross stitch samplers, a pattern she also stitched for both of my older sisters' weddings.
Raiding my mother's crafting stash aside, I didn't pick up needlepoint myself until later. My husband and I lived in Vietnam for several years, and I found myself craving a craft that required little equipment or space, and that I'd be able to find supplies for locally. On a visit home, I swiped her book A New World of Needlepoint, and took it back with me along with some canvas and whatever fiber she had on hand. For a while I found bits of patterns on Pinterest (there are some beautiful scanned pages from vintage Russian and Czech books!), and slowly collected a few books to play with.
I know that the normal thing is to stitch on a painted canvas (Lycette is an amazing source for them), but I've been working off of charts (mostly from vintage books) since I started stitching, and find that I prefer it. It is so exciting to see a pattern come together out of nothing! I have made plenty of mistakes that way, which are always annoying to fix, but still love it.
The first full piece I finished was the pattern below, adapted by Beth Russell from an embroidery work by May Morris, daughter of William. My version is stitched entirely in DMC floss, which is definitely not ideal for needlepoint, but is what I could find locally, and worked just fine.
Favorite Needlepoint Books
I love to look for vintage needlepoint (and other needle and folk art) books wherever I am. The ones I stitch from most often are Maggie Lane's Needlepoint by Design and More Needlepoint By Design. The projects are usually that sweet spot for me of some figurative (lots of attention and counting needed) and plenty of repetitive geometrics (can be done on autopilot).
Another favorite is Mary Martin's Needlepoint, by the Broadway star who will always be Peter Pan to me. :) It's more memoir (via needlepoint) than pattern book, with stories behind her own pieces as well as those that others have stitched. Among my favorite projects highlighted are a pair of clasped hands stitched on teeny-tiny mesh (below left--the stitched area is just 2" wide!), and a sketch of the producer of South Pacific while on the phone with his wife (below right).
There's much more in these books than I'll be able to stitch in a lifetime, but I love flipping through them for ideas!
My Current Project
I chose this pattern (from More Needlepoint By Design) on a whim before heading home for the holidays last year, not quite realizing what a commitment it was! The final product will be an envelope clutch, and I finally finished the main panel over New Year's this year. The other pieces (bottom, side gussets, etc.) could definitely be done in a complementary fabric, but the pattern book included templates to stitch them, and I'm enjoying the process. Below left, testing patterns for the side gusset panels. Can you guess which one I chose?
#2! I thought about using the third pattern to replicate the starry design in the main pattern, but to be honest, #2 was just a lot more fun to stitch! Here it is in progress. After finishing the sides, the final piece will the inside panel, and I'm already thinking about how to make that special. I'll probably continue the side gusset pattern, but add a design in the center with my initials, or maybe another fun idea.
Thanks for following along! Hoping that you & yours are safe and well.
Milicent here! I want to share a few of my needlepoint projects for inspiration as well. Read on to see favorite projects, my current project and inspiration.
The mermaid pillow was one of my first needlepoint projects, which I finished when I was around 14. My mom had done half of it, and she let me finish the rest and sew it into a pillow. It's travelled all over the country with me on different moves, and just reminds me of home and my childhood!
The pig pillow is a project that my mom did and had finished for me for my birthday a couple of years ago.
The furthest right (the alligator pillow) is made on a canvas that my grandmother had given to me before she passed away. I went a little crazy with the background colors and tried out so many different stitching patterns. I love how painterly it feels.
The yellow and orange pillow in the far back is one of a pair of pillows that my great-grandmother had done (she was constantly stitching, and had several couches covered in pillows to show for it!).
This is my current project - a needlepoint stocking featuring charming woodland creatures for my daughter, Edie. I'm going to use a fluffy Alpaca fiber for the squirrel's tail so that it is soft and fun to touch.
Both of these Christmas stockings were made by my great-grandmother. My sister's is on the left and mine on the right. They are my inspiration for making one for Edie that she'll get to enjoy her whole life!
Our favorite sources for needlepoint canvases & inspiration