Monthly Archives: November 2007

Schnookie Sometimes Stitches Too (Christmas Edition)

So we’ve all been wowed in this space by the handiworking skills of Pookie, Boomer and Kate the Great, and today I finally felt compelled to take some pictures of a few pieces I’ve finished in my day. (And yes, the instant Thanksgiving is over we start slapping our Christmas stitching up on the walls. There’s nothing that improves the “Christmas at Hogwarts” feel of life at stately IPB Manor quite like it actually being Christmastime.)

Christmas pieces, in a row

Unlike my sisters and mother, I don’t like to work counted cross stitch with silks on linen. I’m a Victorian cross stitch girl, which is kind of where needlepoint and cross stitch meet. It’s worked in wool, over canvas, and while it’s not necessarily traditionally required to do so, the stitching is generally worked over the entire surface of the piece so there isn’t any visible canvas. I’ve found a few designers I like, but my favorite (and the most popular) by far is Elizabeth Bradley. All four of these pieces were stitched with her supplies, and three of them were stitched from kits (which come with a full-color chart, all the necessary yarns, and a painted canvas).

The first one I made in this seasonal collection was the Snow Geese…
Snow Geese

I chased that one with an impulse-buy of the Christmas Camel kit…
Off to see the Bejesus

Then I busted out of my reliance on EB’s kits and stitched the Figgy Pudding from a pattern in one of her books…
Figgy Pudding

And felt sorry for myself one day when accompanying Pookie and Boomer on a shopping spree at The Attic, our favorite stitching store; as they were loading up on silks and linens and charts, I picked up the kit for this Christmas Rose.
Christmas Rose

I like to joke that my needlework is just bobo stitching — while Boomer and Pookie work their exquisite pieces on tinier and tinier fabric counts and with fancier and fancier silk fibers, I’m there puttering along with wool on ten-count canvas. But several forays by both of them into my Victorian cross stitch turf has proved that it’s not as easy as I think it is. It’s apparently tricky for some to maintain a steady, even tension to get the stitches to be consistent and even without being so tight that the canvas is visible through them. It’s also not easy to make the stitches look even when there are color changes or irregularly shaped color blocks. I’m staggeringly slow at these things (a small piece like these here will take me about eight weeks, and that’s when I’m actually motivated and not, say, writing game diaries for IPB), but I don’t feel like I’m bragging too much when I say my finished product is not half bad.
Detail of Camel

Oh, and it merits mention here that every one of these pieces was vastly improved by the gorgeous framing done for them by the good folks at The Attic. I just love how these all turned out.

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IPB Overindulges

Ahhhh, Thanksgiving leftovers!

So… much… food…

The IPB Family traditional day-after-Thanksgiving dinner is hot open-faced sandwiches. This year I made some whole wheat bread (it was a kind of goofy recipe, and not the world’s most delicious on its own, but it was more than serviceable groaning under the weight of the starchy leftovers), which got toasted and served to hold up a layer of reheated mashed potatoes, a heaping tower of room temperaturized (and totally food safe) stuffing, and a couple of dollops of reheated gravy with shredded turkey mixed in. With some reheated sweet potatoes (mine have some maple in them) on the side, it was a mountain of perfection.

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IPB Gives Thanks… For Dessert

Thanksgiving is, for me, a day of self-indulgence. We don’t entertain (having Kate the Great up from DC doesn’t count), we wear pajamas all day, and this year we ate in front of a hockey game on TV. I love the idea of doing all kinds of stressful, inventive and exciting cooking, but in practice, it’s just not going to happen. For one thing, I want to maximize my four-day weekend by being lazy and unproductive, and for another thing, Pookie and Boomer would kill me if I deviated from our traditional menu. So this year I didn’t bother trying to sneak anything tricky onto our holiday table, and got fancy with just the dessert: Salted Caramel Cheesecakes.

Cheesecake

I made this recipe a few years ago when it was first published in Food + Wine, and it was awesome. Crazy simple (there are only, like, 10 ingredients total), completely non-labor-intensive, and very impressive in execution, it’s an idiot-proof yet totally holiday-appropriate recipe. Of course I couldn’t find my small ramekins, so instead of making six normal-sized individual cheesecakes I ended up with four huge ones. After a massive turkey dinner, there’s nothing like a bucket of rich, sumptuous caramel and cheesecake to make you feel streamlined and light. But even though we were all well past the point where we felt we couldn’t possibly dream of eating another bite, it was well worth it. These cheesecakes rocked.

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Cinnamon Buns Mean Never Having To Say You’re Sorry

Last week Boomer was out of town, so Pookie and I slummed it, eating frozen pizza literally four nights in a row. By the time this weekend rolled around, I was ready to cook for reals, and I had the added encouragement of a house guest. Now, CapsChick is a good friend, and someone I really shouldn’t have felt compelled to show off for (especially considering we spent the entire weekend in pajamas watching hockey on TV), but I couldn’t help it. The urge to make cinnamon buns was just too strong.

A Healthy Way To Start Your Day

I used the recipe from “The Bread Baker’s Apprentice”, and it was simple and clean. The dough was buttery and a bit chewy (kind of donuty, actually), and afforded me the chance to play with my new lemon extract. I had some trouble with my first proof on Friday night, since the kitchen was cold, but once Pookie and Boomer talked me into moving the dough-rising bucket next to the blazing-hot lamp in the back of our living room, things were back on track. I’d planned on trying out refrigerating the dough overnight, and was totally freaked out by that, so imagine my delight to discover instructions in the recipe for doing just that! After a few hours of proofing the rolled and cut buns on Saturday morning, the buns baked up gorgeously. Then the recipe for the glaze gave me a chance to play with my orange extract, which was almost more excitement than I could handle. The end result was rich, succulent cinnamon buns with a fresh, citrusy zing that didn’t overpower the sugary, cinnamony, buttery goodness of the breadmeats. I’m not really even someone who likes cinnamon buns that much, but I loved these.

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The Ducks

In a previous post I alluded to a piece of needlework that Boomer had done on silk gauze. Photos were requested, so here they are! This piece, which we refer to reverently as simply “The Ducks”, was designed by Eva Rosenstad; while it’s certainly most rustic than our decorating style generally is, it’s always hung in a place of honor. I’m not sure what possessed Boomer to stitch it in miniature on gauze, but because she did, it’s forever the standard for stitching excellence for us.

duckssmall.jpg

You can see in this detail shot how intricate the design is, and what a magnificent job Boomer did with her work:

duckdetailsmall.jpg

This next shot shows some scale — that’s right, there are forty tiny stitches for every inch of gauze.

duckscalesmall.jpg

Boomer entered this in the LA County Fair sometime in the early 70’s and won Best in Show. Museum quality work, indeed. I’ve done one tiny piece on silk gauze (an adorable farm scene that was about 2″ by 3″, tops) and am slightly tempted to do something larger. Chances are I’ll never do it, though, just because I know it won’t top “The Ducks”.

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Competitive Cross Stitch

This weekend marked another installment of my foray into the seedy world of competitive cross stitch. Yes, there is such a thing. All over the country local needlework guilds hold annual shows, which are usually then juried. I won a blue ribbon in the first one I entered, several years ago while living in Scottsdale. Buoyed by my blue ribbon finish, I entered 3 more pieces in the following show. That one was far less successful. The pieces that should have been judged highly weren’t, and the ones that shouldn’t have been, were. One judge commented that she gave me a blue ribbon for using a technique that I clearly did not use on the work. I’ll admit that did sour me on the whole scene for a while, but when Boomer and Kate the Great suggested we all enter the Loudon Sampler Guild show outside DC this past week, I thought, “Eh, what the hell!”

We each entered two works, and having had a lot of time and experience to gauge our abilities against other quality needleworkers, we were fairly confident that we’d see blue ribbons all around. (Since none of us do any design work ourselves, there were no delusions of winning Best in Show.) Turns out, though, our confidence was apparently misplaced. Out of the 6 pieces, only one got a blue ribbon! Boomer and I each got reds on one piece and nothing, not even a green honorable mention, on the others! Horrors!

The blue ribbon winner was Kate the Great’s gorgeous Rhode Island sampler.

rhodeislandsmall.jpg

That ginormous ribbon hanging off it is the award for winning “People’s Choice”, an honor that almost makes up for the other disappointments of the day. “People’s Choice” is determined by votes submitted by everyone who comes to the show. (Boomer missed winning this honor in the Phoenix show by one vote. When she found out that all three of her daughters voted for other pieces, feeling it wasn’t fair to vote for a family member, she gasped, “Snakes in the nest!”) This photo does not do this piece justice. KtG has set a new standard for our own family-wide (and constant) competition to make the most beautiful project. Grrr… I mean, I’m so happy for her!

Boomer submitted this Quaker sampler:

quakersamplersmall.jpg

It received a red ribbon, which would be acceptable if her other piece, “Sanctuary” (designed by The Drawn Thread and not pictured here), had received the blue ribbon it deserved.

As for me, I entered “The Oak Tree” (designed by The Sampler Company):

oaktreesmall.jpg

This is the piece that one a blue ribbon in Phoenix. The notable thing about it is that it’s a miniature version of the design. There are two ways to stitch, “over two” or “over one”. In “over two” each leg of the cross stitch goes up and over two threads in the woven linen; it follows that “over one” means each cross is up and over one, making the piece into a miniature. Over one stitching is far, far more difficult. This detail shows how teensy tiny the stitches are.

oaktreedetailsmall.jpg

Someone entered the same design at Loudon, but stitched over two. It won a blue, and mine won a red. Harrumph! Something was definitely wrong with the judges. Kate the Great suggested some crack was imbibed. I’m inclined to agree.

The second piece I entered, which went home empty handed, was “The Willow Tree” (I can’t remember the designer, sorry):

willowtreesmall.jpg

The original design had a verse that basically listed the names and birth years of the stitchers family members. I junked that in favor of a verse I had seen on a sampler in the Victoria and Albert sampler collection:

Return the kindnesses that you receive
As far as your ability gives leave
There is nothing more unmannerly or rude
Than that vile temper of ingratitude

The willow trees and yellow flowers called for some more “over one” stitching, as well as some free-hand stitching, which was a bit of a new challenge for me. But I was very pleased with how it turned out. As I groused after hearing the report of the lack of ribbons, “I don’t regret the time I spent working on them!” Sigh. Next show, mark my words, next show…

My spirits were bucked up a bit when, on Saturday night, I put the last stitch in on “The Rose Garden” (designed by Threads of Gold):

rosegardensmall2.jpg

It’s been so long since I started it, I can’t remember how long it’s taken me. I absolutely adore the design of this reproduction (the original is from 1851, I believe). The rose bramble border seems really unique to me, and it contains a variation on my favorite sampler verse. In this case it reads (misspellings were retained from the original):

This work perhaps my friends may have
When I am in my silent grave
And which when ere they chance to see
May kind remembrance picture me

While on the glowing canvass stands
The labour of my youthful hands
Few other cares than this I knew
But perseverance brought me through

What made me happiest about this project, though, was the back. Boomer once attended a stitching class given by the Embroider’s Guild of America. The instructor was a bit strict, demanding each of her students — middle-aged hobbyists, one and all — do “museum quality work”. Boomer used this phrase often when teaching her daughters to stitch, and as a result, I have an unshakable obsession with the reverse of all my pieces. No one will ever see it once it’s framed, but one glance at the back of a piece of needlework will instantly tell you how good or bad the stitcher is. I knew I’d arrived as a stitcher when the snobby framer at the shop in Phoenix started looking at the backs of my pieces before she did the front. In any event, I think this might be the best back-of-a-work I’ve ever done. Here’s a comparison shot of the front and then the same spot on the back.

Front:
rosedetailsmall.jpg

Back:

rosedetailbacksmall.jpg

It might not be museum-quality work, and it might not be worthy of a blue ribbon, but when the day is done, I’m proud of my work, and proud of Boomer’s and proud of Kate the Great’s (even if she won a People’s Choice before I did).

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