December 30, 2009

5 Years in the Making - Longest Project Ever!

It's not that I'm a procrastinator. I have deadlines and I meet them at work (that's for you, Ms. Manager!); I get my Christmas cards done almost completely on time; I'm typically on time to parties even after a rigorous hair routine. So why did this darn project me so long to finish?

I've been doing counted cross-stitch since I was in grade school. My mother would take me to Jo-Ann Fabric stores, and while she would pick out notions for some sewing project, I would wander the craft aisles looking for something more interesting than bolts of clown-printed fabric.I started with small counted cross-stitch projects (stamped cross-stitch is for babies!) that involved cats, or trite sayings, or small holiday images, eventually graduating to larger-scale photo-realistic projects.

Despite the fact that I don't even like most of the traditional American country/old lady images that are used in cross-stitch, I still continue to do it. Yes, the process of repeated movements is soothing, but there's just a certain sense of accomplishment and attachment to a physical piece of product that you spend so much time making. Once, I had my heart broken because someone literally ripped to shreds a little angel sampler that I had made as a gift. Ten years later, I've mostly gotten over it (mostly), but I no longer give gifts like that to people who might deliberately destroy them.

That said, I thought that a complex cross-stitch sampler would be an amazing gift for someone like my mom. Since she has done a fair bit of needlework in her day, I knew she would appreciate the work that it takes to pull something like that together. I chose a floral lily design with a lot of subtle shading and extremely small stitching detail. I always anticipated that this cross-stitch project would take a pretty lengthy amount of time. So, I budgeted a year or two so that I wouldn't have to work on it every waking hour of the day. Surprise! It took me five years.

My original plan was to go to give the finished piece to my mom - aptly named Lily - for Christmas or her birthday a few years after starting the project. Once that deadline blew by and I was still less than half finished, why not her big xxth birthday? (She would kill me if I put her age for everyone to see.) Well, that came and went, and I toiled to get it done for her birthday this year. I'm talking entire evenings, weekend mornings, and lost sleep to pull this thing together.

Well, May crept up on me, and I couldn't quite finish in time. I literally only had another week or two of work to do, so I decided that Christmas might be the magical day for the gift. A few borders and tassels later, things were wrapped up. And taa dah!:

That's my mom holding her fantastic birthday/Christmas gift. Doesn't she look happy?

So, is this really a creative project? No, not really. It's fuddy-duddy counted cross-stitch from a pattern that merely takes time; not creative juices. But given how much time I devoted to this project, I thought it was worth documenting.

Materials used for this project:
  • "Gold Collection" Exquisite Lily Sampler in Counted Cross Stitch from Dimensions
  • An eternity
Below are a few more photos for posterity:

  • The package:
  • The unbelievably detailed instructions (measuring about 24" x 36"):
  • The thread and stupid grid of 27 colors I kept having referring back to to figure out exactly which shade of thread I needed to use. It is VERY difficult to tell the difference between light yellow green and plain old yellow green, so threads were separated into three different bunches:

  • Finally, the finished product. Check out the detailed lilies-of-the-valley in the middle! 28 of those tiny x's per linear inch. That's 784 x's per square inch. I almost went blind:

I hope everyone has had a fantastic start to the new year. See you next week!

December 28, 2009

Ho, ho, ho! - Back After a Hiatus!

Hello, again! It seems that I have gotten lazy over the past few months. My creative juices ran dry after only 5 posts... in June?!

Not really. Let me explain and offer some advice. Never take on a large project in something in which you have no confidence. For me, that's writing fiction. I thought it would be fun to try taking on a new version of a chapter of Pride and Prejudice written in a modern tone. Except that I had forgotten how bad I was at writing fiction. Three weeks later, and totally burned out, I was left with a sucky version of HALF of the chapter and had been sapped of any desire to do something creative. For those interested in the text - too bad. That crap will never see the light of day. Working with physical objects is more my speed.

So, I'm back now, doing the things I enjoy! I've been occupying myself for the last month or two with my all-consuming annual project: handmade holiday cards! Typically, this involves a lot of paper, scissors, and glue - and this year hasn't been any different.

First, the design. This is inevitably the most maddening part of the process. Searching for ideas doesn't always work. I usually look through my little card making book, catalogs, magazines... Usually the idea just comes to me: a flash of inspiration (eureka!) in the middle of the day when I'm working on something totally unrelated to greeting cards.

Having been obsessed with Mad Men (including a theme party earlier this year), I drew inspiration from the show and AMC's "Mad Men Yourself" application. I figured that a little 60's style would be fun for my holiday cards. Who doesn't want a Gimlet, skinny tie, or house frock to brighten up the holiday season?

So, I made pictures of a male and female figure with the suit and dress that I liked:

Then I printed those images out on white paper and then cut out the clothing only so I could get a clean silhouette without the other body parts. I scanned the images back onto the computer so I could print them en masse from Powerpoint directly onto the red paper I was using. (This year's card was designed to be made mostly from leftover paper from previous years. If any of you do arts and crafts, you know what I mean. I am sick of having random paper scraps lying around the house!)

Snip, snip! Dresses and suits in red!

I used organdy ribbon to create a ruffle at the bottom of the dress. Despite my horrific freehand sewing skills, I gathered the organdy ribbon with a needle and thread to make a bunch of little ribbon lengths. I then sewed them onto the bottom of each dress to create a raised "hem." It's surprisingly difficult to create a length of ribbon the same length as a piece of paper unless you're measuring against it every second.

Cut velvet ribbon was used for the trim around the red suit jacket. I glued the ribbon to the jacket and then trimmed with scissors for a custom tailor job. Santa needs to look as slim for the big night!

I freehand drew some Santa hats. I have to tell you that Santa hats can look weird if you don't get the droopiness just right.

Sticking everything to the card and finishing it off with a "Merry Christmas" stamp is where the relief sets in for me. Sadly, I was a little indecisive this year about how I wanted things positioned, so there were a few versions as I have shown below, a few versions where the couple look like they are toasting each other, and a few versions with crooked stamp placement. (I should add that the stamp is totally optional in the case of non-religious friends. Unfortunately, I may have already offended with the Santa theme. Oh, well.)

Voila! It's a swingin' 60's Santa with his Mrs. Claus. Times 40 cards. Equals a lot of time devoted to cards instead of holiday shopping.

This year's design is definitely not my favorite. Aren't we always our own harshest critics? Below is a lineup of my work over the years. I loooove my paper.

The bottom three are "Christmas Surprises:"

Materials used for this project:
  • Clothing design from "Mad Men Yourself"
  • Needle and thread
  • White organdy ribbon
  • White velvet ribbon
  • White pompons
  • Sharp paper scissors
  • Paper, A2 and A4 cards and envelopes from Paper Source
  • Glue
Final note: Until I put together the full lineup, I didn't realize that I have been making these cards for the past eight holiday seasons. Time flies, as evidenced by my long absence. I hope that everyone out there has had a great 2009; cheers to an even better, more creative 2010!