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Blackwork Biscornu, Complete

I’ve been sitting on this post for several days as I’m far more delighted with the actual biscornu than the photos of the biscornu. I’m having trouble getting the whole project in focus, which clearly has to do with my inability to retain information concerning camera lenses. Mr Apparently has explained which lens to use when more than once, and I’m afraid it just hasn’t stuck. That said, here’s the finished biscornu:


The word biscornu is derived from a French adjective meaning skewed, quirky or irregular. It’s an eight-sided tufted pillow often used as a pincushion. I’m rather in love with it.


I thoroughly enjoyed the blackwork embroidery, although my eyes and shoulders are somewhat happier not to be focusing on the tiny linen weave. I’ve stated firmly that I Am Not Ever Undertaking Such a Project Again, but I wouldn’t be altogether surprised if I started a smaller biscornu project. This one is 60 stitches wide; perhaps 40 might be more gratifying. And I’m rather intrigued by ribbon embroidery

Many thanks once again to Rainburst Embroidery for putting together such a lovely kit and to my mother for gifting to to me.

I’m working my way through the unfinished-projects pile and expect to have more FOs soon!

To Dye For, Redux

In other crafty news, I’ve been knitting an anglerfish. I started this project back in January and stalled out when I decided it would be completely fabulous to knit the lure with glow-in-the-dark yarn. All the yarn I could find online was acrylic, which I didn’t think would go well with the otherwise-wool fish, and so I got it into my head that I should dye some yarn myself.

I found the fluorescent dye online and ordered a packet. Since I planned to dye only a few yards of the yarn, I used about half of the powder and left the yarn in the dye bath for half the recommended time. Look! Orange yarn:

attempts at dyeing

My second try, on the right, involved only a quick ten-second dip and swish. This yarn looks much better but still doesn’t glow in the dark.

This was my first attempt at hand-dyeing yarn, and so I don’t know if it was my technique, the dye or a combination of both, but I definitely did not get the results I sought. So I finished the anglerfish lure with the undyed white wool.

Knitting in 3-D isn’t challenging technically so much as it can be hard to envision exactly what you’re creating as you knit. The instructions in Hansi Singh’s book Amigurumi Knits: Patterns for 20 Cute Mini Knits are crystal clear (although be sure to check the errata). However, you must love both short rows and Kitchener stitch.



I have already knit a sea star from this book, and I think next I will attempt either the hermit crab or the peas in a pod.

On Blackwork, or Embroidery, Part III

So when the cable modem broke down, leaving me without news, blogs or any of the myriad other ways in which I can waste fruitfully spend a couple of hours online, I decided to devote this offline time to the modern blackwork embroidery of the biscornu pattern. Which first meant trying to decipher “even-weave linen,” a type of fabric commonly used for embroidery but which I had yet to encounter in experimenting with free-form crewel.

What I really needed was something to magnify the linen. I found a pair of reading glasses I’d bought long ago for computer work and set myself up by a sunny window to stitch a set of guidelines onto the fabric. And then, on to the blackwork and beading.

blackwork front

My learning curve was fairly straightforward. The only trick to following the well-written pattern is to understand the layout of the linen, in which every two horizontal and vertical threads equal a square. After a day, my hand intuitively went to the right spot without counting. Stitching the guidelines was the absolute worst part, because I was not yet sure of what I was doing, and my eyes were not used to the tiny weave of the linen.

My Holbein stitch is decent but not perfect, but since no one will every see the back of my work, I’m not too concerned. It took about a week to stitch the blackwork and flowers and add the seed beads on the front.  I then spent another week duplicating the border and blackwork (but omitted the fairy flowers and beads) for the back. The repetitive, easy-to-memorize geometric pattern is incredibly satisfying to stitch.

blackwork soaking

As I type, the front and back are soaking gently in a cool Eucalan bath. This step perhaps frightened me more than any other, but the colors seem to be fast. I should have the biscornu finished this week!

Love from the Blogosphere

One of my all-time favorite crafty sites is WhipUp.net, where Kathreen Ricketson fosters “a community of artists, crafters and makers who share ideas in a central space.” Her tastes run from old-fashioned to uber-modern, and I’ve learned a great deal about the fabric industry from her insightful posts.

So I was extra-pleased to spy one of my pincushion rings in her latest group of selections from the WhipUp flickr pool!

patchwork on whipup.net

Whipup flickr group: quilty — whip up.

Et Tu, Jemima Puddleduck (Embroidery Part II)

My mother gave me the biscornu kit for Christmas. I was delighted. I was intimidated. It sat on the coffee table for two months while I considered the best approach.

The border of the biscornu is done in cross stitch. I have some sort of undefined bias against cross stitch; it evokes images of religious samplers and busywork. But I really wanted to be prepared to tackle the biscornu pattern, and so some cross stitch practice was in order.

About 40 years ago, my mother purchased a set of two Beatrix Potter bibs to embroider as a baby present. She cross stitched the Peter Rabbit bib, presented the gift and never embroidered again outside of the aforementioned French knots. For my entire childhood, the other bib sat on the back of a high shelf in her bedroom closet, behind the skeins and skeins of needlepoint yarn. I knew it was still in her basement. She brought it to me. I cross stitched.

I conquered Jemina Puddleduck.

jemima puddleduck

I did not, however, conquer the ground and the lettering, feeling sufficiently confident about my ability to freehand cross stitch. Also, I may have pricked my finger several times. Those needles are sharp.

Next: In which I approach the sixteenth-century blackwork with great trepidation

To Dye For

We interrupt this torrid, deeply compelling series of embroidery posts to share photos of a last-minute egg dyeing session that took place this afternoon. Did you know that you can buy a Cars egg-dyeing kit? The CVS carries everything!

Apparently Jr liked the dyeing and the sticker-applying best.

dyeing eggs

I turned out to be an excellent egg excavator. It’s a good thing we had yet to throw away Apparently Jr’s baby snot sucker. Martha Stewart recommends them for blowing out eggs!

easter eggs

And Mr Apparently made an incredible egg dinner. Under this perfect omelet lurks chorizo, asparagus and hash browns.

eggs for dinner

We’re not a religious family, but we’re grooving on the bunny-spring-egg direction this year. And I believe Mr Apparently picked up some chocolate praline filled real eggs from Germany, along with an actual basket, at Chelsea Market. I’ve never been so excited to greet the Easter Bunny! Now, how will he deliver his goods? We don’t have a chimney…

Crewel Intentions, or Embroidery, Part I

The Apparently family is back online, thanks to a kind TWC repairman named Harry, and so I’m finally ready to confess a crafty secret I’ve been holding close the past few months. I’ve been dabbling in embroidery.

My mother is a champion needlepointer. The woman has spent hours stitching the most complex of canvases, from the Swan Boats in Boston’s Public Garden to intricate, fanciful vases of peonies. But apart from a few French knots, neither of us quite had the embroidery bug.

Last fall I discovered this lovely little Etsy shop, Rainburst Embroidery, and the curious little tufted pillow called a biscornu. I may have put a blackwork biscornu kit on my holiday wish list, and we’ll get back to that in a couple of posts. I had embroidery on the brain, if not in my hands.

In January, I stumbled across this book: The New Crewel: Exquisite Designs in Contemporary Embroidery. Katherine Shaughnessy has made a little craft empire out of her modern approach to crewel. The free-form nature of crewel appeals to me, as well as the fact that it’s traditionally sewn with wool on linen, and so I tried my hand at one of the New Crewel designs:

crewel circles

Since I’m quite drawn to spirals, I next spent a few days working on my satin stitch.

crewel swirls

And then I tossed all the embroidery supplies into the closet, because after a week of tiny stitches my back, shoulders and eyes were sore and unforgiving. But the needle and hoop would not let me rest…

Next: In which the intrepid new embroiderer encounters Jemima Puddleduck

Button, Button

In the center of each of my pincushions is a lovely little button. I’ve been working my way through my grandmother’s stash of vintage and mother of pearl specimens, but I needed to expand my button options. The usual venues, Etsy and eBay, weren’t providing much in the way of interesting lots. One eBay listing I coveted, a pound of buttons from a now-closed Italian button factory, ended when I wasn’t looking. So I was both delighted and dismayed to discover that they had been relisted…but also expanded to five pounds. FIVE. Who needs five pounds of buttons?

Apparently, I do. Reader, I purchased them.

Would you like to see what five pounds of Italian buttons looks like?

five pounds of Italian buttons

I should mention at this point that I love to sort things. I find making order out of chaos very pleasing. And the first thing I did when the buttons arrived was to dump them all out onto the living room rug and begin to sort.

When I had several piles, divided loosely by material, color and appeal, each with myriad subsets based on the actual designs, I realized that I had no way to store the buttons while keeping them sorted. So I sifted the three main piles into zip-top bags and stashed them all away for a few days, during which time I pondered what to do with the buttons. Sell them off? By the pound or in small lots by type? There are some lovely buttons in there that I will never use. Others I will absolutely use, and yet others I may or may not use but I like them enough to keep them around.

Last Friday, Apparently Jr and I sorted the buttons again. I was fascinated to watch him choose those buttons he liked best and search for matches within the giant pile. All the buttons were laid out on a tablecloth on the kitchen table, and at one point we nearly pulled the entire operation onto the floor, but we caught the tablecloth just in time. His delight with this project increased with each match, and then he reached his button-sorting limit. (I’d found a few more little plastic bags in the interim, so our work was not for naught.)

On Tuesday I sat down with some ring blanks and E-6000 adhesive to experiment with the “craft” pile. The results:

button rings


Here are two pincushions I’d made that were too small for dishes. Voila! Pincushion rings:

liberty pincushion ring

blossom ring pincushion

Now, what should I do with the remaining 4.75 pounds?

More on DIY Upholstery

One of my favorite blogs, Eighteenth Century Agrarian Business, has a post today that thoroughly details the process of making an ottoman from scratch.

Eighteenth Century Agrarian Business: diy: tufted ottoman, in more detail.

Adventures in Upholstery (Then and Now)

When I was about 23, I I discovered a discarded loveseat in front of the apartment building where I lived in Minneapolis. Snow was just starting to fall, and I knew that if I wanted to rescue the sweet little sofa I had to do so right away. (This was before we had to worry about bedbugs.) I ran inside and called a couple of friends, but no one was around. (This was before had phones in our pockets.) So I somehow managed to push/shove/lug the sofa around the building, in the service entrance, up a flight of stairs and into my apartment. Which, by the way, was the one right behind the tree to the left, on the first floor. It had French windows then, and the trim was painted green.

marcelle arms


I loved that apartment. But that’s another post.

I spent that snowy night tearing the damp tweedy fabric from the loveseat’s frame with a pair of needlenose pliers. The next day I bought a staple gun and a few yards of navy jacquard upholstery fabric. And somehow, using a potent combination of 20% skill, 20% proper and improper tools (including but not limited to a needle and thread, the staple gun and a glue gun) and 60% sheer determination, I turned that frame into a pretty decent little sofa. To this day I can’t listen to A Prairie Home Companion without hearing faint echoes of the thunk thunk thunk of the stapler.

I wish I had read Manhattan Nest first. Because this guy did something similar, and far better. He recovered an IKEA bed frame with cotton batting and an Army blanket. And he was smart enough to buy the automatic stapler.


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