Quilts in Common

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A little handwork…

I have always loved handwork. My Maternal Grandmother taught me how to embroider  and crochet at a very young age—sometime between 3 and 5—and, therefore,  handwork will always hold a special place in my heart. She had a very unique way of teaching me. It was probably not unique back then, but it seems unique today. She was always working on a handwork project: embroidering flowers on a pillowcase, crocheting a lovely variegated lace to the edge of a pillowcase, or embroidering a detailed scene on a tapestry.  She must have been constrained by her location (rural farm country in the Midwest), her numerous duties (a farmer’s wife, mother of 5 children, caretaker of her sick brother, manager and head chef and baker of her family restaurant) and her economic status (a struggling immigrant family); but as far back as I can remember, she never failed to be working on something to keep her hands busy in those few idle moments of the day. Her approach to teaching me these skills was to have me simply work on her project while she was busy with her various tasks. She would be right there if I needed any help, but she didn’t really give me any specific instruction. She just assumed that I would pick up where she had left off and continue in the same style and direction that she had already chosen for the piece.  Her pieces were not beginner level by any means. She never fussed over my contribution, never told me to be more careful, or ever seemed disappointed in my work. I don’t know if she always ripped out everything I had added during the week and redid it—she never mentioned it—but her pieces all look perfect.

Now today, things have changed. You don’t see women doing handwork very often. It is not as popular as it was back then. I feel more and more hindered in my choices of handwork by the fact that the choices are becoming so limited or so expensive. Even stores like Joann’s that specialize in crafts are not even carrying many handwork supplies or kits.

Well, that is not going to stop me! I am determined to continue doing my handwork until either my eyes or my wrists give out. So at the completion of my last needlepoint project, I had a rather difficult time procuring a replacement. I spent hours searching Google maps for stores that would sell needlepoint projects. I visited several stores. Their inventory is small and very expensive.

I then spent hours on the internet looking for books with project ideas. Finally armed with a lovely project in a book checked out from the library, I returned to the needlepoint store to buy canvas and yarn. Feeling confident that I was going to be starting on a new project by the end of my visit, I showed my choice to the clerk. She explained to me that my choice had 27 colors in it. She no longer could stock needlepoint wool because the manufacturer was no longer making it, and she has found no suitable wool replacement. She could offer me a silk/wool mix yarn instead, but that would run  $5.85/skein. Over $150  for the yarn alone!  Well, that does not fit into my handwork budget. I like to spend most of my craft money on quilting fabric- not yarn! I don’t buy yarn for my crocheting or knitting- instead I use recycled yarn from sweaters I buy at a thrift shop for a buck. I unravel them and wind them up into balls. I was not going to spend $150 on a single needlepoint project. I had to come up with another solution. I looked online for cheap needlepoint wool. I found it for 79 cents/skein! And they also sold canvas! Perfect! But they didn’t have the exact colors my pattern called for because of the decreased production, and the canvas was $42/yard—plus shipping. Okay, maybe I haven’t found my solution after all.

I explained my aggravation to my husband, who can reduce a month’s long search and untold frustration into a single sentence with no difficulty at all. He listened attentively and calmly said, “Just use all the yarn you already have around here.”  Didn’t he listen to anything I had just said? I am collecting sweater yarn to crochet with! Not multiple shades of the same color and texture and size to be used to create an almost painted effect on a needlepoint canvas!

I pretty much gave up. I started shopping for clearance kits on the internet with pictures of things I wasn’t interested in sewing at all. I went to several thrift shops looking for discarded kits.  I would drool over the Ehrman tapestries and actually felt that maybe $100 for a single kit wasn’t so bad a price after all!

Then… I finally processed what my dear husband was trying to get through to me. Design my project around the yarn I already have! Work backwards so to speak. Genius! Who would have thought!

I checked out a ton more books from the library (at least the library still has some books on needlework).  Now I was searching not for the most lovely shaded flower, but instead for a geometric pattern with a minimum of colors and absolutely no shading at all. I found several books with some beautiful options.

I finally settled on a Tunisian motif in Sue Hawkins’ Heirlooms in Needlepoint. I emptied all my yarn stash baskets out on the bed and began to put some color options together. Amazingly, it was pretty simple. I coupled wool yarn with acrylic with cotton and with unknown blends. This is going to be some experiment kept going through my head. I found needlepoint canvas on clearance at Joann’s for $3.97/yard. They had 4 yards- I cleaned them out.

I started my new project this week: here is my progress so far.

Now I have a whole new angle to my thrift store sweater shopping. Will I ever be able to find multiple shades? Probably not—but that won’t stop me from looking!

April 18, 2012 Posted by | Handwork | Leave a comment