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The Roots at Dusk Diary

There she is!  The biggest beasty I’ve ever stitched. This painting was done in February 2008, and measures 4.5 ft by 5.5 ft, I will cover approximately two thirds of the surface with hand stitches. The underpainting consists of watercolor, spraypaint, hand dye, rubber stamping, and acrylic on unbleached muslin.

(Note: finished 12 July 2009–WOOHOO– she clocks in around 110,000 stitches)


How did this come to be? you may ask.  Well, after being invited to show my mixed media embroidery at the Campanella Gallery in Parkville, MO, the gallery curator asked a simple question:  I’m interested to see how you’ll fill up the space…

That set me thinking. Full.  Space.  BIG?  What if I stitch something really big?  I was limited only by the width of a bolt of muslin. I decided 4 feet by 4 feet would be cool! And the sketching began…

To materialize the beast, I stretched the muslin across the studio table and dampened it with a water spritzer. I mixed up a fat bucket of water color washes in sepia, raw umber, and ochre and just started playing.  As watercolor is a long-time love, I can hold my own with it, but the sheer size of this piece forced me to step WAY outside my comfort zone of “gentle washes — long dry — gentle wash — ink work”, and just let GO. Once I got the hang of making a visible mark, it was sheer joy. I slapped a Prodigy cd in the laptop and POW, the root was born.  Those of you who get down musically with your art know exactly what the experience was like: pure visceral movement.  And I was exhausted when the painting was done (about an hour and half later).

So I let it dry for two days.

Then I had to figure out how to mount it!  Jenny Hart of Sublime Stitching.com often hangs her work banner style, so I thought maybe I could hang it that way, but how in the hell would I stitch it? I had to maintain tension. . .

After considering all sorts of contraptions and riggings, I was helping son look for his spiderman shooters when, There It Was: the chalkboard!  Heavy slate in a beautiful thick wood frame.  Husband scavenged it from an old building he used to teach in — unbolted it right from the wall — and it was PERFECT!  I slid the frame off and laid my fabric over it. Some wood trim and a zillion nails later, I had perfect fabric tension and a helluva hoop!


Next problem, where do I WORK on it?  My studio is 10X12 (see studio on toolbar) but it’s pretty tight in there.  I decided to at least do the initial thread layout there, then decide where to work later…

(Tuesday July 10, 2008) I’d worked two straight hours to assemble the BIG tree. Being SO excited about the upcoming gallery show, I was laying great groundwork for stitching–but I hadn’t yet couched all the thread salad down   (because I HAD to get dinner started or my hungry gang would starve…) so I left my monster in the studio & went to cook… (I’ll be releasing a tutorial on thread salad for Spring 2010)
After dinner, we were anxious to see Indiana Jones & the Last Crusade (again) AND I wanted to copy some cool material from the journal in the story to use as a layer in the monster embroidery underpainting.

ANYWAY, I head for the den with sketchbook in hand, when I hear CRRRAASH in the studio. Yep. My dog (the rottie) has KNOCKED OVER the monster embroidery while trying to get to his dog bed, and two hours of threading has whispered and lumped into an undignified pile on the carpet. Que sera.

The next day (after cleaning up dog doo from the aforementioned bad dog–who is admittedly sick, so I go easy on him) I begin the process of re-laying the tree threads: hi ho, hi ho…
In the spirit of making lemonade margaritas from life’s lemons, I am thinking about leaving some of the tree underpainting showing–like peeled bark–perhaps the dog was on to something…
I added ink stamping and some colored fabrics. It began to look like the image in my head…

Step 2: laying down more under imagery, stitching in textures

Step 3: more and more stitching…


March, 2009.  As she develops, I find I’m moving her around the house more and more.  Below, she was parked in the bedroom for a couple of weeks as I was using the studio for designing. I was also having trouble propping her up – but my dressing table has drawers on 2 sides and a deep middle, so it was perfect as I could stand and stitch.

Admittedly, it was rather strange that she looked over me at night, “stiiiiitch meeee…”


But I was able to get a fair bit of work done, like mushrooms:



and a little froggy…



And I hope to get some more life developed over this week– like a few very

cool woven picot ferns…

Now (March 2009) she’s back in the studio, and happy I think, so I just keep stitchin on!


And just when I got TOO optimistic, The beast demanded BLOOD!!

HELL ON TOEst!! The BIG Root demands human sacrifice!!  Suffice it to say the screams you heard late one April night were NOT your rowdy neighbors again, it was ME!

The story goes like this: While kids were taking a quick tub, I ran from stitching the Root in the studio to change into pjs myself.  I took off my stitching beads which always hang across me messenger style


and stowed the needle in it’s case (the pointy thing at the top of the pic – it’s made for scissors, but my needles are 3 and 4 inches long so it’s perfect).

I thought everything was fine, until I put my foot down, full weight, to step into my pants…

The 4 inch doll needle had jumped from its case, landed point up in the carpet, and went in the bottom of my toe, and came out the top to make a perfect T.  Cue screaming.

I ordered the naked just-out-of-tub kids to “GET DADDY NOW”.

Recognizing it was my serious business voice, said naked kids sprinted to the deck where Daddy was serenely laptopping…

When he saw me standing like a stork against the bedrail, and his eyes traveled to my foot he started to speak… I interrupted with three words, teeth gritted:  Pull.  it.  out.


So, brave unflappable husband WRENCHED that needle out of my toe with horrified children looking on.

Now, I am no sissy — I birthed 2 babies with no pain meds, but when I saw that 4 inch yarn darner skewering my toe, I about fainted!

Oh yeah, I suffer for my art… (post script: a week after the toe, I lost the BIG needle, again, this time in my sweater where I’d pinned it to the front “just for a second…”.   I found it when it stuck in my arm!  LEARN from my mistakes people, I sure haven’t!)

So, another day of stitching brings another thimble blow out!!  I’ve posted my Glove-thimble tutorial here *link* and swear by the rubber trick, but the pulling tension to pass what is often 12 or 18 strands of floss through 4 layers of muslin is just too much for thin gloves.  But I’ve gotten smart–went to the dollar store and bought 5 pairs of heavy Rubbermaid gloves, so there will be no more thimble crisis!! mwah, ha, ha!


With a month to go til the show (17 July 2009), I’m stitchin every day now to get the beasty done!

I’ve had a love/hate relationship with her, as we’ve fought our way through, but ultimately we seem headed in the same direction.  I’m filling in the open areas like a forest floor sprinkled with flowers and grasses — and may work up some moss (I spied really cool fuzzy green moss among my trees yesterday–living in the woods is great for inspiration!)

Below are rust colored bullions with burgundy pistil stitches on top:



The leaves below were a bit of an accident that worked better than I could have planned.  I wanted more texture among the “forest floor” than I was getting, so I started painting and stamping fabric with no satisfaction. It was while cleaning up that happy accident gave me my texture — the papertowels I was using were PERfect! I cut them into leaf shapes and painted them further. I’ll give them another spritz or two of paint and then they will be stitched on to the main muslin easy peasy!! The bullions above will go over the top of the leaves like sprouts for extra texture:




May 14 2009 and I’ve photographed some new progress:


This little bit of thread salad is becoming a series of purple flowers along the bottom right edge of the piece.


See below, the purple ones? There are 6 total.  spring6x6left-crop

Here’s the same technique on the Spring piece (in Free Tutorials  *link*) – purple thread salad with light+dark blended french knots (and above the purples are red french knots, burgundy brazilian cast on and yellow bullions – all three will appear in the Root in the coming weeks)

More to come… stitching… stitching…


June 2009, tufting and making grasses — and dang will I be happy to not have to stitch left-handed anymore! But blisters and reaching make it necessary…


(yipes — me hair looks GREY!!  Guess that’s what ya get from a redhead with a flash camera)

more tufting  this time right-handed (Ghoirdes stitch)

July 2009:

So, the opening is in a few days (I’ll have to install this weekend) and I’m mostly ready.  Today, I had to put the whole root on my lap to reach the midsection:


And DANG is that thing heavy!

I added a couple hundred seed stitches:


and will probably stitch on it until the moment it has to be delivered!

10 July and she’s almost done!!!

But some life must be added…


first, some main lines… then, some spinning,



And, voila, a web of life!!  Metallic threads ROCK!!


and there she is, 12 July 2009, at about 110,000 stitches!!


And after an attack with the digital camera all secure on the gallery wall–


For those of you who have followed this project, thank you. Your kind words and encouragement have really been wonderful.

For those who have only just arrived: Welcome! And enjoy my adventure!

After witnessing these stitchy shenanigans, you should explore my newest adventure, visit The Sinister Stitch Chronicles Diaries and meet my poisons!

fearless stitch, bruthas and sistas, fearless stitch…