Thursday, June 25, 2009

How do I choose colours for a design?

Believe it or not, this is probably the longest and most painstaking part of the design process for me. It's also incredibly fun.

When I create a new design, I generally have a good idea of what colours I want to have in it. However, with all of the different threads out there, purple, blue and green could end up being many different things!! Especially with my ever expanding collection of colour samples (which can never be large enough!).

Which comes first, fabric or floss? It really depends. I've done both and had both work well for me.

When it comes to fabric, while I love my neutrals, I also find that sometimes there is just that perfect fabric colour that gives a piece that little bit extra. So this is usually decided by whether the design will be mainly solid or variegated colours. When I'm using a lot of variegated threads, I tend to go for a more neutral fabric, either solid or very close to solid, so it won't over power the colour changes in the threads. If I'm going with softer variegation or solid threads, the fabric can be a bit more bold without interfering with the design. Sometimes the fabric colour determines the floss colour, sometimes it's the other way around. And sometimes, a colour of thread or fabric will inspire me to create a design with it.

When choosing threads, usually there will be one or two focus colours in the piece. Areas of the design that I want to stand out. These are the colours I choose first. Though I definitely have favourite colours, I don't like re-using colours over and over in subsequent designs simply because of my experimental nature. I like to play and have fun with colour. First and foremost, the main colours have to be harmonious with one another. When you work with a lot of variegated threads, the easiest way to do this is to start with one colour that you really like for the design, then look for colours which contain some of the same components that this first one has. I'll use Celtic Wings as an example. The main butterflies had to be a colour that would grab attention, and be bright and bold for spring/summer. Blackberry was a lovely choice, for although my first instinct was to make the butterflies purple, blackberry also had a lovely blue and a pink in it which made it a wonderful colour to match others to. My second colour was the dragonflies. I chose Zaffre Cobalt because one of it's components was shared with Blackberry, and the two were really lovely together. When it came to the pink, I looked for a colour which shared the same pink as Blackberry, and I found it in Examplar Crushed Berry. These three have a wonderful feel together, and each had enough boldness to highlight the main design elements.

Next, I had to choose a green. I wanted subtle variegation in this colour, and I wanted it to be a bit lighter than the main elements for two reasons. One, anything darker would have competed to much with the centrepiece, and two, I wanted this to be a bright and springy design, and my main elements, while bright, were also pretty dramatic. Unfortunately at the time of creating this piece, Vikki didn't have anything in that shade of green. While she had some lovely greens, most were either too dark, too light or too brown. So I went to my trusty tag set, and pored over the greens. Vetch greens have always been one of my favourites, they're a great balance of yellow and blue, leaning towards neither end, and they're bright not neon bright. So it was decided and Vikki graciously invented a new green for me.

The other elements had to accent but not overpower. The red had to be a pretty true red for ladybugs, but I wanted a more blue-red so that the red and pink wouldn't clash. So I went with something a bit darker than my original plan, and though it wasn't quite a ladybug red, artistic license prevails. The yellow for the small butterflies I wanted to be a fairly true yellow, not orange, not brownish. The colours in the design are pretty "true" primary and secondary shades, so I wanted the same of the yellow. The black was pretty easy. :)

This is pretty much the same process I use for all of my designs. Once I get narrowed down to a few different palettes, I will test stitch each one on my chosen fabric, because sometimes stitching will show a colour a bit differently than it looks in skein form, especially when you're not using plain white fabric. This will tell me which is going to work best over all.

I state something on all of my designs, and I do think that it's worth mentioning here - the nature of these styles of design is such that they lend themselves to creativity - I always urge stitchers to pick colours that they will enjoy stitching them with. That might be my model colours or it might be something totally different!

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

What's the big deal about silks?

As anyone who has purchased one of my charts will notice, I stitch my models in silks. I do offer a conversion to cotton though, just so you know! As far as my personal stitching goes, 99% of that is in silks too.

So why silks?

I've been stitching for a long time. About 25 years with a few years of breaks in between. For the first 2o of those, I stitched in cotton, with the odd little bit of metallic here or there. Then I discovered silk. My first experience with silk was with AVAS, which, though not nearly as shiny or glossy as some, is a dream to stitch with. The difference between this and cotton was like night and day. This started me on a quest to try other silk threads and at this point in time, I can say I've tried about 40 different brands, types and weights. Some I love, some I like and some I wouldn't touch again. Even up to two years ago, I still had plans to stitch some larger projects in cotton, because of the cost difference, but those have been left by the wayside. Large HAEDs which I got halfway through before this obsession started have been forgotten, and will never be finished. They may be restarted though. ;)

So what's the big deal? They are incredibly soft and the feeling in your hands is wonderful. It's like petting a little kitten - addictive!! You just want to keep petting it because it feels so nice. They have a wonderful shine. This ranges between a high gloss look that some of the filament silks have, and a shimmery sheen that the spun silks have. And honestly, looking at a skein won't give you a proper idea of this - you have to stitch with it to really appreciate the gorgeous effect. Most silks glide through the fabric effortlessly - a good analogy I've heard used frequently - like a hot knife through butter. This is exactly what it's like. You don't get a scratchy friction of the thread on the fabric with most silks.

Does it really look and feel that different?

Yes. No question about it. Cotton feels like twine to me now, I just don't enjoy working with it. It's not fun. It's a chore. I've been spoiled and I freely admit it. I look at my pieces done in cotton and while they are very pretty, they just don't have the same effect. The depth of colour seems brighter and richer on silk, the light reflection is amazing, especially on specialty stitches! I've heard a lot of people say that once you stitch you can't tell the difference. There is a notable difference, I certainly can pick it out, and most people who stitch with silks on a regular basis will be able to see it as well. On plain cross stitch, it isn't obvious from a distance, but when you look a little bit closer, it is apparent. Cotton has a little bit of sheen from the mercerizing process, but washing, sunlight, wear and tear while stitching and simply overhandling thread will cause this sheen to wear away. Cotton just isn't a naturally shiny fiber. Silk is. You don't need to use chemical treatments on it to make it shimmer and shine, it just does that all by itself. And it will still be shiny 100 or 200 years from now. Why is that important? Well I'd like to hope that my projects, especially my models, will still hang in my families houses generations down the road!

Isn't it ridiculously expensive to work in silks all the time?

That depends on a lot of things. First, on the type of projects you're kitting up. If you are talking about a piece with hundreds of colours, then yes, it can get very expensive. However, on a piece that uses that many colours, there are several less expensive silks, like HDF and Eterna, that work wonderfully. These end up costing about double to triple what it would cost in DMC - but, for a project that will probably take years to stitch, that cost doesn't seem so bad to me. I'd rather spend the extra at the start than either not enjoy it and/or not finish it at all.

On a project that is monochrome or uses only a couple of colours, the cost difference isn't as drastic, especially if you're converting from hand dyed cottons to hand dyed silks. Just as an example, a project that uses 5 colours, 2 skeins each of Crescent Colours cottons will use 5 colours, 1 skein each of Crescent colours silk. The cost difference on average (as not all shops charge the same amount for these) is $12.50. That doesn't seem so bad does it? On a monochrome that uses 10 skeins of Weeks Dye Works the cost difference to use something like Gloriana would be less than $10.

A lot of people gripe about the cost of some of the huge projects, like Chatelaines that use several different brands of silks, beads and crystals. Some of these can range up to $400. Yes, that's expensive, and yes, it would be much cheaper to do in cotton. But for someone like me, if I kitted it up with cotton I would never work on it. And with a project like this, to me it loses the intricacies and subtle beauty of the variegated threads when you sub solid colours in for them. Plus, this is a project that is going to take hundreds of hours. I can live with a cost of less than $1 an hour to stitch something that beautiful.

One of the biggest myths I'd like to touch on is one I hear a lot, from a lot of stitchers in this area who have never tried silk, OR who have used ghastly rayon threads thinking that they were silk. This is the myth that silk is more difficult to stitch with than cotton.

Filament silk, which is notable because of it's incredibly high shine and extremely silky softness, is in most cases, more fussy than cotton. In most cases, it's not knotting or tangling that is the problem, but the fact that the silk catches on EVERYTHING. This isn't true of all brands, most of the really tough ones to use are flat, untwisted silks. I've used several types that aren't bad at all. Eterna's Mini Twist is fairly nice to use, and AVAS Soie D'Paris is just lovely to stitch with. Neither of these is harder to use than cotton. There are ways around the problems, hand creams, hand treatments like sugar/cream, anything that will smooth out rough spots on your hands helps. The effect these silks give though, is absolutely amazing - it's worth the little bit of aggravation, I swear it!! Sections of satin stitch done in these is incredible to look at, it really is.

However, most silks on the market, and most silks used by designers are spun silk. These do not have the problems that filaments do. You may still need to use a good hand cream (make sure it is needlework safe and fully absorbed before stitching!) because some brands can catch, but in my experience, it's not a huge problem. And believe me, I spend half my day at work with my hands in chemical sanitizers, degreasers and antibacterial solutions and my hands are a frightful mess, but I don't have a major issue with spun silks.

If anything, spun silks are easier to use than cotton. This is the reason I choose them over cotton. If they were more difficult, I'd enjoy my cotton projects more, now, wouldn't I? They don't tangle up as badly as cotton, they don't fray as badly as cotton. Some are better than others in how they behave, and as I said earlier, there are some brands I just refuse to use because they just don't measure up. Spuns silks, on the whole, will make for a wonderful stitching experience.

Another little side note - when I used to use cotton, everything was about finishing a project. I used to celebrate a finish much more, because it was a "PHEW, I'm glad that's done!". Now, I have more WIPs than I can count, and I don't care with most of them if I ever finish, I just enjoy working on them! It's the process of stitching that I love, and the finish is just a bonus.

And one last item I'd like to touch on, and a HUGE myth that I hear frequently. Silks aren't washable.

Silks ARE washable, no matter what anyone tells you. What I find really amusing about this, is that people will use hand dyed cottons without question, but will complain about a silk that runs. In my experience, hand dyed cottons are much worse for bleeding than any silk I've ever used!! And many cottons will actually lose colour - it's not just loose dye molecules that are being washed away, but that the dye isn't completely set. I've never had a silk fade like that when washed. Whether a silk will bleed when washed is entirely dependent on the dying process. Some are pretty darn good as far as being colourfast, others not so good. Bright or dark colours and reds tend to run on many different brands.

The easiest way to deal with bleeding is to keep your work clean, keep your hands clean, and not wash it. We all know that this isn't always possible though, so here are some things to keep in mind with ANY fibers you intend to wash.

Wash it before you start. You want to know if your work will be safe when you wash at the end? Rinse the fibers first to wash away any loose dye molecules. Do this until the water runs clear, and there isn't any colour transfer to a clean white towel or white paper towel. It's a bit time consuming, but it can save you a ton of heartache/headache. I don't do this, because I almost never wash my finished work, BUT, I always test a small amount of each colour before I stitch, so if disaster strikes, I know what I'm up against. Thankfully, most fibers I've used are pretty colourfast. AVAS isn't, most colours of that will bleed, but I've had pretty good results with HDF, Eterna, Waterlilies, Gloriana, Belle Soie, NPI. However, DO NOT expect that because I've had good results, that you will too, and make sure you test your fibers first. It IS worth the time.

As far as testing goes, to be completely sure I recommend testing even DMC or Anchor. I've had DMC run on me in the past, so it's not failsafe either.

One of the biggest draws to silk for me, is the vast number of different threads I get to experiment with. Some are dyed on the same silk base by different companies, but a lot of them are very different from one another. Different thicknesses, different shine, different feel. And oh the colours!!! Each different dyer has colours that no one else does, and this makes them soooo much fun. Cotton over dyed threads are pretty much all dyed on DMC or Anchor. So there really isn't any difference except the colours. Well since I don't particularly like DMC OR Anchor (though I find Anchor more bearable than DMC) I'm really not going to go out of my way playing with colours. When I do find a colour I like, I will do everything I can to find a silk alternative. I was SOOOO incredibly happy when Carrie of Carrie's Creations announced a line of silk, since I like her colours but I shied away from them because I didn't like the way they stitched.

Before you ask, no. I'm not rich. I'm definitely working class, and I don't have all that much money to spend on stitching. So what I do have I'd much rather spend on items that I love. I'd rather save up for 3 months to kit up a project that will cost a couple hundred dollars than spend $50 and never stitch it. If I resigned myself to using cotton, I'd probably give up stitching. Yes. I'm that spoiled. :)

Monday, June 1, 2009

Celtic Garden - a conversion

I was asked recently to provide a conversion of Celtic Garden to NPI and Gloriana, and I thought I would share this with you stitchers, in case it was something others were interested in.

Exact conversions are rarely possible, since each dyer has their own unique styles and colours. What I tend to do is match a range, especially on a gradient style piece like this, rather than match colour by colour, so that the conversion colours remain harmonious with each other.

Luteousness - Gloriana Granny Smith Green is a good match. It's a bit lighter though. If you wanted to go darker, you could go with Olive Grove - it's a little bit brown, but it's got a good feel for the style.
Bitterblooms - NPI Brick Range is really good for these. You'll need 4 from light to dark - I'd probably go with 123, 124, 126, 128
Cervezas - I like NPI's Sunflower Gold range for these. 772, 773, 774 and 775.
Fish Peppers - Definitely NPI's Russet Red Range. For the central flower, you'll need six colours, I would use 204 through 209 for these. For the outer flowers, I'd use 204, 205, 207 and 209.
Terra Pottas - I'm going to suggest NPI's Pumpkin Range, in 862, 863, 865 and 866. There really isn't anything exact, and these are bit less brownish, but these will look great with the other colours.
Umbrage - Yellow Ochre 313 has a good feel for this one.

As I always state with any of my designs, my model colours are only a suggestion! I would love to see these stitched in a wide variety of colours of your own choosing.

New Design - Celtic Wings

Wow, it seems like ages since I've posted. I've been a very busy girl though!

Celtic Wings is finished. It will be officially released via European Crosstitch this week!

The model was stitched on Sassy's Frosted Cafe in 40 ct (although you could stitch this on ANY count of linen!! I just like the tiny x's) using Hand-Dyed Fibers silks. The design size is 267x267.

As always, though excited by the finish and release of a new design, I have a bit of an empty spot in my heart now that it's finished. It's almost like one of my children has grown up and is ready to leave the nest. Strange, but true. It will be a little while before I start a new model though, I have two pieces that I have to get done before I dive into another one! Both are a little time sensitive, so I want to focus on finishing them as quickly as possible so I can get back to some more model stitching. I have a wealth of ideas that are literally busting to get out.