Since Coni (Spinster Stitcher) was and continues to be my very own inspiration for taking a needlepoint class and wanting to learn all there is about needlepoint, I decided to e-mail her for tips and advice. Here is her response:
Oh, dear Miss Danielle! Welcome, welcome, my friend to the dark side! Bwa ha ha ha ha!
My needlepoint journey began in the deep dark pit of frustration that I am only now coming out of. You see, we used to have a local needlepoint shop that was owned by a woman who hated stitching, and, more amazingly, hated stitchers. So every time I went in there to shop and/or learn, I was told everything that I was doing wrong. Then, when I started my blog and became "known" in the shop she hated me even more and took every opportunity she could to make me feel like an idiot.
So....with all of that said, please know that everything I'm going to tell you is completely my very own experience and that I am completely self taught. Yes, my mom was a needlepointer, but she did pre-worked canvases on Penelope canvas, used Bucilla wool that she wound onto a big ball, and she stitched in-hand using the sewing method by starting at the bottom and stitching a single column up to the top.
I only mention all of that because Aunt Chrissy and I have every single piece she ever did and they are our most treasured possessions. As a matter of fact, I can tell you that if my house ever catches on fire, I will grab Stewey and Mom's needlepoint. When I took one of Mom's pieces into the above-mentioned shop, the owner went out of her way to criticize the hell out of it, and basically implied that our mom didn't know what she was doing and that the pieces were worthless. (Did I mention that they are gorgeous, meticulously stitched, and have withstood over 40-years of life?)
But I digress....
Aunt Chrissy taught me to cross stitch on 14ct aida, and after I had "mastered" that, I graduated to stitching over two on linen. I never really made it up to the "big girl" linens...like 36ct. or 40ct., but that doesn't deter me from doing what I do. I love me some 28ct. and I seem to fly through 32ct. with ease. Also, I am of the opinion that if a person picks up a needle and puts thread to it, they're just fine by me. I don't care of they're stitching ducks on potato sacks....absolutely everything that is created is simply wonderful and should be respected as such. So there.
See? There I go, regressing (I mean, digressing) again.
When I decided that I wanted to learn how to stitch on canvas, I found Miss Laura J. Perin Her Very Self. I started with a few charts from her American Quilt Series and then became the obsessive compulsive stalky fan that I am now. Her charts are the very best that I've ever seen, and I think that anybody who knows how to cross stitch and read a chart will find that canvas work can be equally as satifying if you start with a LJP design.
As far as painted canvas is concerned....ahhh, there's a bit of a different story there. Remember that mean old shop owner? Well, she got me so far up in my own head that every time I sat down with one of the several dozen painted canvases I have, I became completely paralyzed. Every time I reached for a thread or flipped through a stitch book, all I heard was her voice telling me that I didn't know what I was doing and that I was going to screw it all up and then I would have to go sit in a corner and feel my shame for the rest of my life. So instead of stitching and enjoying the several dozen painted canvases that I have, I would spend hours and hours up in my studio just looking at them and wishing that I had the knowledge and courage to try them.
Something snapped right around Christmas time last year. Was it the fact that the mean old shop owner had finally gone out of business? Was it Aunt Chrissy telling me that if I didn't get my head out of my heiney when it came to painted canvases, she was going to throw them all out the studio window onto the driveway? I don't know what it was, but I pulled out my Maggie Funky Santa canvas, pulled threads, and then...wait for it....had a blast stitching it!
You wanna' know what the secret was?
The year before, I took a mystery class from Ruth at Bedecked and Beadazzled. And it was so much freakin fun and I learned so much freaking much, that when I sat down to the Santa canvas I felt like I had a jumping off point. And! Instead of the mean old shop lady's voice, I heard Ms. Ruth say "You go girl, with your bad self. You just have some fun with that there canvas, and if you don't like something you've stitched, why then, just pull it out and start over again until you find something that blows your skirt right up."
Needless to say, I think that Ruth Schmuff is absolutely the most amazingly perfect person I've ever "met" in the needlepoint world. She's young and fresh and funny and cool, and if I ever go to Maryland I'm going to walk into her shop and then never leave.
OK. Now what was your question?
Ah, painted canvas tips. That's right. Here's what I would tell you:
1) Go to an artist's supply store and buy yourself a roll of tape. It kinda looks like masking tape (and you can most certainly use that too), and carefully tape the edges of your canvas. This not only prevents the edges from fraying...it will give the tacks a place to adhere.
2) Yup, that's right. Tacks. You will most definitely want to mount your canvas to stretcher bars. I know that some people disagree with me about this, but I can tell you that every single needlepoint piece I have ever done has been stitched on stretcher bars, and the tension of my stitches is perfect and I've never had to block a piece because it warped.
3) For threads, I think the best thing to do is to take your canvas into a shop (or hit your stash if you've got lots of fun stuff in there), and play play play. If a canvas has a lot of detail and color changes, I always try to keep the threads kind of quiet so that they don't compete with the design. I will tell you, though, that here is where I really have to fight my "matchy-matchy" tendencies and NOT try to pull all the same type of threads so that they look nice in the project bag. (!) Instead, go for depth of color, texture, the effect that a certain fibre might give you (like fuzzy or shiny, etc.) and whether or not you want some sparkle. I can tell you that some of my canvas have been colorized with all cotton and silk and simple threads and some are tarted up like Vegas showgirls. All I can tell you here is to just have fun and not be afraid to try anything. (Wait 'till you see some of the beads and do-dads and such that Ms. Ruth comes up with!).
4) Stitch selection is where I completely lose my damn mind, so, for me, a stitch guide written by a pro is exactly what the doctor ordered. In the case of the Santa, I completely flew by the seat of my pants, but I can tell you that I must have been heavily medicated at the time, since I didn't have one single nervous breakdown while stitching that thing. I did, however, discover a tool that every single needlepointer on the planet knew except for me...."audition" your stitches. What this means is....take the thread that you want to use and the stitch that you're thinking of and try it out on a doodle canvas or on the side of your painted canvas (in the margin). For doodle canvases, I took a big piece of 18ct. mono canvas and cut it up into 5 X 7 rectangles, threw a few in the project bag, and then whenever I wondered what something would look like, I tried it there. You can try things out on your painted canvas too, but if you're like me and have a tendency to slice through things when removing threads, then the doodle canvas will save you the explanation to Aunt Chrissy as to how you just ruined a $400 canvas. You might want to invest in a few good stitchy books...the ones by SuZy seem to be the ones that I use the most, and almost every needlepoint shop carries them (SuZy's Small Stitches, SuZy's Stitches for Effect, etc.).
Now here's the part where I tell you that I simply cannot stress enough the importance of not getting "all up in your own head" over this. If you get frustrated or feel like you're "ruining" something, take a big deep breath and channel your inner Aunt Chrissy. Every time I went off the rails, she would say to me...."Are you entering some kind of Best Needlepointer In The World Competition?" "Are you giving this to the President to hang in the Rose Room?" "Is anybody going to dare to come into your house and tell you that they think it looks like crap?" "NO?" "Well then, quit your bitching and just STITCH THE EFFING THING ALREADY AND ENJOY IT!"
OK, maybe not that brutal, but you get the idea.
And finally...(my God, if you've made it this far you should get a medal or something)....if ANYBODY ever tries to tell you that there is a right way or a wrong way to go about this and you feel like they are telling you that what you want to do won't fly with the old biddy "do it our way or go back to cross stitching" crowd, then, by all means, give me their name and number and I will don my Stitchy Ninja costume and will smack them fiercely with a floor stand.
This. Is. Fun. It. Is. Not. A. Competitive. Sport.
That concludes this portion of our programming. Please feel free to delete me from your Palm Pilot.
P.S. GO TO BEDECKED AND BEADAZZLED!!!!!!!
I had to put it here on my blog because I thought it was the most awesome, fantastic and wonderful response anyone has ever sent to a question of mine.
Coni, I love you!!!!! You are an inspiration and a truly wonderful facet of the stitching community.
In peace, love, and stitches,