2015 – The Year of Exploration

Recently I shared with several folks that as a result of our Bargello Challenge GCC and several other projects, I decided that 2015 is the year of exploration for me.  Since our Bargello Challenge GCC was the first driver for this decision, I started going back through my books and websites that I had bookmarked.  As I looked through these and looked as some of my favorite Bargello sites, I was reminded that one site did a “365 days of Bargello”.  As a result, I have made a list of what I want to explore this year related to bargello to support our GCC and several other projects in my UFO pile.

This exploration will include other techniques and lots of new ways to finish my needlework.  The major finishing techniques that I want to really explore are the following:

  • Biscornu – all kinds – especially a 15-sided one
  • Pyramid Ornament – I saw this with one of the petite projects and really liked what I saw
  • 3-D Ornaments – I have done a few of these and really enjoy them so want to explore some other ways to do them
  • 3-D Cube – I have several projects that are “blocks” which I have decided to turn into “cubes”

As a result, I have been asked to share my explorations as our guest blogger.  I hope my explorations will be helpful to some of you and that some of you will join me in my explorations.  Please feel free to ask questions, provide recommendations, share your experiences, etc.

Look for some photos of my first Bargello explorations in the next day or two.  I will try and post something every few days so that you know what I have been exploring.

Karen Anthony

Needles, Froggers, and Threaders… oh my!

Hey everyone! I hoped you enjoyed the last post on cutting tools. I apologize for not posting in August… the time just got away from me. The month was filled with last minute summer vacations and school starting, and not nearly enough stitching (and obviously no blog post!), but I am back in action this month, stitching away (already two finishes this month) and writing blog posts.

This time around we are going to continue to talk about the tools we use, specifically needles, threaders and froggers. Enjoy the post, and pay close attention… there is a trivia question hidden in there!


What is stitching without a needle? Knotting? A jumble of threads with nowhere to go? We all know we need a needle (get it!?), but which one is the right one? Read on.

A tapestry needle most commonly used in cross stich and other counted thread embroidery. This type of needle has a large eye and a rounded tip, which prevents the needle from separating strands of thread. The tapestry needle is manufactured in different thicknesses for use on the various counts of material. The sizes are expressed in numbers, usually ranging from 18 to 28. The higher the number the smaller the needle size is.

How do you know which size to use? The needle should be large enough to move the fabric threads out of the way just a bit, and pass through the fabric with minimal abrasion, but not so large that the needle leaves a noticeable hole around the thread. Floss or fiber thickness, and number of strands used can also affect the choice of needle size. Below is a general outline of the size of needle used with certain fabrics. But by no means is this a hard and fast set of rules. If you are unsure of what needle, start with the size recommended and then move up or down in size depending on your preference.

General Guide:

18 = 6 count Aida

20 = 8 count

22 = 11 count or 22-27 evenweave

24 = 14 count or 28 evenweave

26 = 16 count or 32 evenweave or 22 count hardanger

28 = 18 count or 36 evenweave


There are other types of needles as well, and depending on the project, you may use one or more of these.

  • Beading Needles – These are slim (sharp!) needles with small eyes. Because they are very slim, they are used when adding beads to a design as the needle fits easily through the small bead hole.
  • Crewel (embroidery) Needles – These needles have a large eye and sharp point. Used with working on non-count (stamped) cross stitch designs and/or on non-countable fabric. These needles are also preferred by some stitchers for backstitching or fractional stitches on Aida.
  • Chenille Needles – These are long like a tapestry needle but differ because they have a sharp point. They are used for crewel or other wool embroidery.
  • Straw (milliner) Needle – These needles have an eye and shaft that are equal in thickness. They are ideal for French knots and bullion knots. [Author’s note… I stink at French knots. Maybe I should try one of these needles? Can anyone share any experiences with these needles?]


A frogger is used when you have to undo several (or more) stitches because of an error. Like leapfrogging, except backwards. Frogging is sometimes referred to as unpicking.

There are two schools of thought here, but whether or not to unpick your work is a personal decisions. Some stitchers evaluate whether the error is in a crucial part of the design. Others are perfectionists and only see the error when they look at the design, driving themselves crazy until it is unpicked. But leaving an error in place is not a crime… remember that this is your work, an original interpretation of the design itself. Go with what feels right to you and move on.

Depending on how often you want or need to do this, you might invest in a tool specifically designed for it. But usually a frogger is just a needle with some sort of a fob on it so you can find it easily. There is also something called (unfortunately so) a hooker, which like a tiny crochet hook, that is sometimes used for unpicking threads.

frogger2 frogger1

Needle Threaders

Need help getting that tiny eye threaded? You are not alone. Even with my relatively young, strong eyes and my reading glasses, I often curse the threading part of my stitching tasks. Whatever you do, don’t lick! Get a needle threader.

Needle threaders are invaluable tools for anyone who works with embroidery. There are two types… one for finer threads and ones for yarn and thicker threads. [Trivia Question: Why shouldn’t you lick?]

For thinner threads, the design is typically the same and very basic, consisting of a diamond shaped wire with a handle.

Standard Needle Threader:


For thicker threads, a tapestry threader is used. This is commonly a flat piece of metal with a hole stamped in the end or a hook- like end to lay the thread on.

Tapestry Needle Threader:


There are also gadgets that do both, as well as automatic needle threaders.

Multi-Function Needle Threader:


Either way, the operation of a threader is the same.  Insert the wire or flat piece into the eye of your needle, loop your thread through the wire or hole, and then pull the whole kit n’ caboodle through the eye.

Do you have any fun photos to share of these types of tools? Perhaps something from your grandmother’s stitching box or a great find from an antique shop or fela market? I’d love to see what you have in your stitching stash!

Howdy all! First in a series about the tools we use…

Hi everyone! Welcome to the RMWS blog and my first blog post ever. Before we jump into this month’s topic, I would like to take a moment to introduce myself.

My name is Lisa Russell and I have been stitching since I was 13 years old. I am a self-taught stitcher, having purchased a small kit back in the day when I tried every craft from knitting to macramé to glass etching and beyond to keep myself occupied. Although I have not stitched continuously lo these 30+ years, the gaps filled with small babies and crazy jobs and unemployment, stitching was the one thing that stuck with me.

In my experience, I find that stitching is able to mold itself around whatever interests me at a given time, whether the patterns be whimsical or serious, simple or complex, modern or historical. Thanks to the range of products, I also find that I can create pretty much anything for any occasion or holiday. I can sit for hours stitching something that I know will be lovingly accepted by a recipient, or I can relish in a project that I selfishly construct for myself. I imagine that you folks will agree with me when I say stitching accommodates everyone. But that’s enough about me… on to the blog topic.

Today’s topic is the first in a series of six about the tools we use. I have some ideas for other topics once this series is complete, but I would love to hear from you, the members, regarding topics of interest so let me know and I will plate them up for consumption. We can never have too many things to talk about while we stitch, right?

If I were to ask you what the most important tool in your stitching arsenal was, what would you say? Would everyone have a different answer? Think about the one tool that you use every day, every time you stitch, without fail. The one thing that doesn’t change or waiver, that you would make you crazy if you lost track of it, and stays close to your side (or even attached to you)… did you answer scissors? Because if you did, then you know where this topic is headed.

Scissors, or some kind of cutting implement, is one of the single most used tools for stitching. This doesn’t mean that you have one pair per se, since there are different scissors for different applications and even different locations or scenarios. But scissors remain a constant in our stitching world, so let’s take a look at some of the particulars about scissors.

Shears – These are what most people imagine when they hear scissors. However, shears are specifically made for cutting fabric. They are large in size, somewhere between 6”-8” with long blades. They typically have a small thumb hole and a larger opening for the fingers. Most importantly, they have a slight angle to the blades, making it easier to cut against a flat surface. Pinking shears also fall into this category and are used to finish the raw edge of the fabric to keep it from unraveling.

Shears should be sharp in order to cut through fabric efficiently. You can test the blades by trying to cut cleanly and quickly through a piece of doubled scrap fabric. If you can’t cut through it, they aren’t sharp enough. To maintain their edge, label and use them for fabric only.

Scissors – These are quite different from shears. They are straight… straight bodies and straight blades. These are slightly smaller than shears, usually between 4 ½” – 6”. The holes for the thumb and fingers are typically uniform in size. Scissors are used for detail work like hems and seam allowances where the smaller size and precision cutting is required.
Snips – These are basically a small version of scissors. They have the same straight blades and body, with uniform finger and thumb holes. Snips are used to cut threads while sewing.

Embroidery Scissors – I bet you own a pair (or two or ten) of these. Embroidery scissors are a specific, refined version of snips used for cutting threads. They are small and delicate, and while you will often see ornate versions of them (sometimes in a stork-like pattern with the blades as the beak), they come in functional varieties too. The tiny blades and sharp points allow for extreme precision when cutting embroidery threads.

Curved Embroidery Scissors – These scissors are curved up, against the flat of the blade which allows for cutting a jump thread with a precise cut. The design helps avoid snipping the portions of your embroidery that you don’t want cut. Especially useful when you need to undo, or frog, portions of your stitching that have an error.

Some important points (get it?!) about scissors:
• Scissors can pick up residue from various uses, so clean them regularly. Run a cotton ball soaked with alcohol (carefully now!) over the blades to clean them. This will help keep residue from transferring to fabric.
• To help your scissors last longer, don’t use scissors that are designated for one application for another. For example, don’t use your good fabric shears or snips to cut cardboard.
• Label your scissors for their various uses and keep them in a safe place to protect the blades (as well as people and pets).
• Decide whether you want to invest in better scissors and keep them longer by having the blades sharpened periodically, or if you would rather spend less on scissors and replace them every so often when they dull or bend. Either way is fine (the stitching police won’t come after you), just know the pros and cons to each decision.

I hope you have found this topic enlightening and useful.If you have any questions or comment, I would love, love, love to hear from you.

Hugs and stitches!

Guatemala Adventures – #10

Editors Note:  Thank you Connie for sharing your adventure with us.

I hope that you’ve enjoyed my little journey in decorating my home with Guatemalan textiles and art.  It has been a joy to bring color and life to this blank canvas.  My final installment is mostly pictures for you to see the transformation.  Thanks for taking this trip with me.

Dios te bendiga, mis amigas!

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Guatemala Adventures – Part 8

When last we met, I was on my way to the art supply store for my canvases.  Suffice to say, this was a more involved process than I had anticipated and I will summarize my experiences on the road to the completion of this project.

Buying canvases involved 5 trips to the art supply store!  1st trip: Broken Spanish, help from my friend Celeste, help from clerk.  2nd trip: Broken Spanish, help from clerk (clerk & guard now recognize me). 3rd trip: Broken Spanish, a few less canvases (clerk & guard calling me a friend).  4th trip: Broken Spanish, a couple canvases (clerk & guard are considering adopting me). 5th trip: Other wall (square canvases) and a picture of the first wall to show the clerk that I actually was doing something with all the canvases (no guard now – store moved to bigger quarters undoubtedly because of all my previous purchases)!  Total # of canvases used: Wall #1 – 44 and Wall #2 – 16

Of course, some of these trips to the art supply store included trips to Cemaco, the wonderful all-purpose store where you can get anything from towels to tools.  I had to buy a staple gun and staples, nails to hang the canvases on the wall plus some other tools like a level, hammer, pliers and screwdriver.  By the way, did you know that not all staples are the same width?!  Well I’m here to tell you, they are NOT!!  After 2 return trips to Cemaco, I finally landed the right size staples.    Total # of staples used: 3,200.

As you have ascertained, I decided that I had enough textiles and variety of textiles to 8-1decorate 2 walls of the casa.  So, I spent many days laying out canvases, laying out textiles and further disassembling & cutting textiles to fit those canvases.

After I determined what was going where, I started mounting the pieces to the canvases.  This involved a lot of stapling and some unstapling but when I finished, I was happy with the results.  Now for hanging everything!

8-2The nice thing about having tile floors is that it made it easy to measure out the size of the wall on the floor with tape, lay out the canvases on the floor grid and then pencil measurement information right on the floor so as I put the pieces on the wall, I was able to refer to the floor for the measurements!  The only thing that I hadn’t counted on was the new found fact that my ceiling was sloped!!  I hadn’t realized it untl I began to hang things.   So, you adjust, right?!  A little tweak here, a little tweak there, a few larger holes than you anticipate in the plaster (we just won’t move that piece…ever) and VOILA: 8-3







I also decided that I did not want to cut the fajas (sashes) so I used them as door trim around our guest bath.8-5I

I am very happy with the way things came out.  I’m delighted to have used native Guatemalan art to bring color and life into my blank canvas of a house.  I have acquired other huipiles and decorated other areas of the house, as well as, my husband’s work office and that of his assistant, Karen.  I have also purchased other types of textiles, artwork, pottery, baskets, curtains, and furniture and transformed my casa.  In my final installment, I will put up pictures of my “new” house!

Guatemala – Adventures #8

When last we talked, I went over 4 of the huipiles. That left a 5th to dissect and another woven piece to analzye.
Huipil #5 was my absolute favorite. The rich colors and intricate design drew me to this one when I noticed it folded and laying on the shelf in the store. When I pulled it out and opened it up, I fell in love! Look at all that brocade!

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This was like looking at a tapestry, especially when I finally opened up the side seams and spread it out.

Huipil #5 Open

Huipil #5 Open

This last piece truly intrigued me when I pulled it out of a pile. I loved all the animals depicted on it, especially the kitties. This was not a huipil. It was probably a wrap-around skirt called a “corte” [CORE-tay] or perhaps a “tzute” [ZOO-tay] which is any kind of square or rectangular utility cloth.corte You can see the very wide randa that was used to join the 2 panels together. After a lot of thinking and debating with myself, I eventually made the decision to sacrifice the randa and break it into the 2 panels. Remember, I mentioned that these are all used pieces. The fact that the randa was a bit soiled in spots helped me to not feel as guilty about taking out this beautiful handwork. That and the fact that the 2 faint vertical lines about 1/4” from the outside edges of the randa were machine topstitching and I didn’t like how they looked!

Once I had roughly decided how I was going to break up the various textiles, I found I had time to start dissassembling them. Of course, here I was in a hotel room with no stitching tools of any kind handy. But, being that we needleworkers are resourceful and I was determined, I went hunting. On the shelf in the bathroom I found the complimentary hotel sewing kit (2 straight pins and a rather formidable needle) and lurking in my suitcase was a small nail clippers. Armed with these primitive tools, I started taking out seams and ripping out turned and embroidered neck edges! McGuyver’s got nothin’ on me!!!

canvasWhen I had done all I could with my tools, I then had to make a list of the canvas sizes I thought I was going to need. After all, I had 1 ½ days in the City. I’d better make good use of my shopping time and that ½ day had to be spent buying groceries (ugh!) before we headed back to San Rafael.

Guatemala Adventures – Part 7

It was my great fortune to come away from Antigua with many beautiful examples of Guatemalan textiles. I was quite eager to begin The Project. As it turned out, we ended up staying at a hotel in Guatemala City for two days directly following our trip to Antigua. So, while my husband attended to company business, the textiles and I got to know each other better.

As you recall, my intent was to use these items on my walls. I planned to stretch them over paint canvases and hang them like pieces of artwork. As I was new to understanding their structure, especially the huipiles, the first thing I decided to do was photograph, analyze and then mentally “desconstruct” them. One of the main things I had to keep in mind was the fact that half an inch on all sides of any pieces I came up with, was going to be stretched over the four sides of the canvas and stapled.

Huipil #1

Huipil #1

Huipil #1 Detail

Huipil #1 Detail

As looked them over, I realized that they were made up of either 2 or 3 sections. The sections were either connected together by hand or machine in the form of a regular seam (see #1 above, for example) or a decorative “randa” [RAHN-dah] (see #2 below, for example).

Huipil #2

Huipil #2

Huipil #2 Detail

Huipil #2 Detail

Another important consideration was that I wanted to make sure I was going to be able to keep as much of the design as possible from each huipil while at the same time creating pieces of varying sizes, so the wall would be interesting and not dominated by huge hangings. This proved to be a bit like dissassembling a puzzle. Each huipil had its own unique quirks and areas of interest.

For instance, the turquoise one (#3 below) had beautiful buillion roses hand embroidered around the neck opening and at the sleeve caps. I didn’t really want to lose the embroidery so I ended up isolating these areas by doing some strategic cutting.

Huipil #3

Huipil #3

Huipil #3 Detail

Huipil #3 Detail

On this purple huipil, the shoulder caps were hand embroidered and the designs across the front and back were brocade. I had to make the decision to cut through parts of the brocade design in order to retain the shoulder caps. Since the neck opening had cut into that top row of birds already, I just decided that was part of the design I was going to have to sacrifice. Easy to say, hard to do!

Huipil #4

Huipil #4

Huipil #4 Detail

Huipil #4 Detail

In addition to the huipiles (5 total – you’ll see the 5th in the next article) I had purchased some long scarves, 2 belts and 2 table covers. I decided to leave all of these intact until I actually assembled the wall layout. I did measure them in order to get an idea of possible canvas sizes I’d need to buy.

My excitement was building!

Guatemala Adventures – Part 6

Ahhhhh, Antigua! It is hard to know where to start in talking about this beautiful little city. antigua1Quaint, picturesque, historic….all these and more are words that come to mind.

You see beautiful examples of the Spanish colonial style architecture everywhere. Some are just ruins, some have been partially restored and a few have been fully restored. Modern buildings pay homage to old. Color and beauty are everywhere – the vivid hues of the buildings, the abundant flowers and trees, the markets and street vendors, the splendid central park square with fountains and fresh cut flower arrangements, and the picturesque hillsides surrounding the town, dominated by 4 (2 active, 2 dormant) volcanoes. It is breathtaking, charming and enchanting.

I’ll just let the town “sell” itself to you in the following pictures…..

Truly, a feast for the eyes, eh?!

Now, I’ll tell you about the amazing hotel we stayed in. There are many hotels in Antigua, as you can imagine. Some are in old church enclaves such as nunneries, convents, churches, etc. Some are in old residences and some have always been hotels. Teresa (my friend) and her husband have stayed in Antigua many times over the 2 years they’ve been here. (Somehow, all of a sudden, everyone wants to come visit you when you live here!!!) Anyway, she recommended Hotel Casa Santo Domingo to us.

This outstanding hostelry was a monastery founded in 1538 by the Dominicans. It is considered one of the grandest of its kind in the Americas. You will see why in the following pictures. It has gorgeous gardens that are impeccably maintained and there are several museums/art galleries within the hotel. As well, they turned many of the “cells” into guest rooms. Oh my goodness! Everywhere you turn is antiquity!!

Once again, I’ll shut my mouth and just serve up “dessert” for your eyes with the following pictures:


Sigh……I could LIVE here! It is incredibly peaceful. In fact, I’m pretty sure my husband would be more than happy to bring a book and just sit in the gardens and read while I go out and shop ‘til I drop!

In my next article, I will share the fabulous “textile treasures” I came home with!

Guatemala Adventures – Part 5 cont.

Webmasters note:  My apologies to Connie as I left off the end of her article last month.  This is the continuation of the article.

Colibrí (www.colibriweavers.com) – This is where I purchased our beautiful bedspread. Colibrí carries only newly made items. This store was founded in 1984 to “assist several groups of indigenous women widowed during the armed conflict in Guatemala. Weaving at home allowed them to support their children through their craft, while at the same time develop self-confidence and organizational skills.”

Today, over 500 Mayan women from 25 villages combine the traditional tech niques and patterns of the backstrap weaving into contemporary design and function. The original weavers (and many of their daughters and granddaughters) participate in all aspects of the business and Colibrí is successful and self-sustaining.

The broad stripes you see are the decorative embroidery called randa (RAHN-dah) which is used to connect the long, woven panels together.

I encourage you to go to both these websites to learn more and see the beautiful pictures.

Next up: Beautiful, amazing Antigua!

Guatemala Adventures – Part 5

I know that I haven’t taken you to Antigua yet, but I want to talk some about the two places where I purchased the Guatemalan textiles and a bit about how these beautiful works of art are made. I learned so much from the websites for these businesses before we went and it gave me a new appreciation for and a better knowledge of the textiles that I would eventually purchase.Nim P'ot

Nim P’ot (www.nimpot.com) – It took us awhile to locate this large, indoor marketplace because the entrance wasn’t readily apparent and not all the tourist information boothes scattered around Antigua actually knew anything about it! Finally, we honed in on it. It lies just past this beautiful arch on 5 Avenida Norte. This is one of t he main streets running on the west side of the central square in Antigua. For the length of the street on the weekends, moving north of the square, it is for pedestrian traffic only and there are vendors of many types – from henna tattoos to original paintings – that set-up or walk along this street.

Nim P’ot is a consignment store for indigenous suppliers which claims to be home to “the world’s largest retail Maya textile collection”. Additionally, they focus on preserving the Mayan cultural heritage and documenting the “evolution of Guatemalan textiles” through their website and this “retail” museum.

There were all types of items at this market including textiles, masks, carvings, paintings, antiques, etc. Of course, my focus was on the textiles and they had many, many forms of handmade textiles, all used and in various degrees of wear. So, let’s talk specifically about the beautiful, Backstrap woven textiles that make up the Mayan traje (trah-hay – traditional clothing).

Backstrap weaving is an ancient form of weaving that has always been used by the Mayans. The Backstrap loom is “a simple loom comprised of two sticks or bars between which the warp threads are stretched. One bar is attached to a fixed object and the other to the weaver usually by means of a strap around the back. The weaver leans back and uses their body weight to tension the loom. Both simple and complex textiles can be woven on this loom. Width is limited to how far the weaver can reach from side to side to pass the shuttle”.  (From Wikipedia – Loom, Section 3-Types of Looms, 3.1-Back strap loom)

Brocade work is done simultaneously while weaving. Brocade is produced by weaving in supplemental colored fibers (cotton, rayon, metallic, wool) in intricate patterns along with the weft threads. The purpose is to give the appearance of embroidery on ground fabric.

The weavers (generally women) work with specific patterns, colors and embellishments which are identifiable to their villages. The intricacy of a piece is part of the weaver’s individual artistic expression and a showcase for their skills. The most lavish brocading is found on the huipil (ooo-WEE-peel). This is a tunic or blouse-like garment. It can take many months to complete a complex huipil. “Through the choices of design, material and finishing technique, information can be read about the weaver’s birth-place, religious background, social position, weaving skill, and personality. Indigenous women can read the complex encoded messages in each other’s huipiles at a glance.”(From Nim P’ot website).   Additionally, hand embroidery is often used to connect the lengths of woven fabrics, embellish sleeve caps & neck openings and, in some villages, for the entire design on the huipil.

I ended up purchasing 5 huipiles, 2 belts (fajas), 4 scarves, 2 kitschy wall hangings and 3 “tablecloths” at Nim P’ot. I’ll go into greater detail on each later on.