Wednesday, November 21, 2012


You guys are really smart, but you knew that already.  I've had several fans diligently assisting me in deciphering that Little Alien Schoolgirl sampler unearthed earlier this year. I'm happy to say that with their help, a new section has shed the veil of mystery.

Alert stitchers realized this snippet of text was featured in a multi-part documentary called Futurama about a 30th century civilization. The future glimpse of society in New New York at the turn of the next millennium offered many previews of technology and culture. For those who question the veracity of this source, I offer that this acclaimed documentary has received seven Annies and five Emmy Awards and an Environmental Media Award!

Only after watching hours of recorded installments, pausing at each scene that included this mysterious script, were we able to provide enough text samples to input into the same computer system that linguists used to crack a 250-year old code by the Oculists.  (You MUST learn more about that, as it is the best win for the codebreakers in the last century - there is a great article in the current Wired Magazine, or you can see some stuff here. For real.)

With this key in hand and using the letters that Ms. Dala started with, I was able to piece together the missing symbols.  So, the good news for stitchers making reproductions of this sampler is that you now have an option to encrypt your very own message in this spot. It would be a great place for your name and date, or perhaps to say that YOU rock.  Of course, reproduction purists will want to stitch the sampler exactly as it will be made in the original.  Here is a pdf to the charted alphabet.

Watching this documentary, the viewer is also introduced to indefinite life extension technology wherein the head is maintained in a jar. Upon closer examination of the jarred heads in this sampler, I've concluded that these are more likely to be preserved specimen heads, rather than living heads of the sort seen in Futurama.

On signing off, I leave you with a link to the Turangal├«la-Symphonie by Oliver Messiaen. If you don't know the connection, you need to watch more documentaries.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

End of the World

As we know it, and I feel fine (so far.) Regarding the Little Alien Schoolgirl sampler, I believe I've got this top corner figured out now and I'm sorry to report that it's a little ominous.  The long blue thingy with legs is obviously a sandworm. If you watch any of those outer space documentaries (Dune, Return of the Jedi, Tremors, etc.) you are aware that space is rife with them.

In doing some research, I found that other scientists had been trying to make some taxonomical comparisons between different types of sandworms, but it's all pretty sketchy. The exact breed/species of this one is unknown. (Graph courtesy of

Oh to know if the series of bars underneath is tied to the sandworm motif or was just placed in tragic arbitrary proximity. In attempts to decipher this motif, I started with the very simple idea that there were only two shapes used - a single vertical bar and a double horizontal bar. Given how many numbering systems use a similar one potato/two potato symbol, I substituted a number 1 for the single vertical and the "2" for the pair. So it could read: 2  1  1  2  1  2, or perhaps as paired numbers: 21/12/12.  This sequence of numbers might not have any immediate fear factor for those living in the United States, where we list our calendar dates with the month code first.  But most other places, including Central America (home of the Maya Civilization,) use the more logical "smallest division/bigger division/biggest division" method.

You've all heard about the Mayan calendar (not to be confused with the Aztec calendar that looks like circle upon circle of intricate symbols with a centrally placed God Dude sticking out his tongue) and that coincidentally (or not) it goes up to 21 December, 2012.

So was this sampler sent back in time to warn us that sandworms would be our ultimate undoing, and that the Mayans were privy to the date?  Judging from the date on the sampler, an awful lot of years ending in "12" have passed by the time of its stitching. I am actually somewhat embarrassed for Ms. Dala. Did we not learn ANYTHING from Y2K?  At some point in the future do we stupidly revert back to using two year date codes?

It's just like an odometer rolling around. Is it the end of the old pickup truck automatically one mile past 99,999? That's all that happens this December with the Mayan calendar. Our katuns and baktuns and the other Mayan calendar divisors all roll over. Are we so frightened that we start seeing coincidences everywhere? At what point do they stop being coincidences and become part of some larger conspiracy? Yeah, I'm sure those gold and green blocks must mean something else.

Not much time - you'd better get stitching.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

The Tiniest Reindeer

Check out the newest product from Gloriana Threads. It's called Tudor Silk and was created for mildly insane people. In a nutshell, it's 12-ply silk (like her regular floss) but it is twice as thin. What that means, is you can stitch over one on higher count fabric and get a very crisp design. This is my Holiday Magick chart done with 1 ply of Bellagio Red over 1 on 32 count linen. It measures 1.5" by 1". If I had used regular silk, those little single stitch open windows would be totally swallowed up by the puffiness of the stitches next door. You can, of course, do things like use 2 strands on 40 count over 2, but this over 1 is its forte.

Holiday Magick - stitched over 1 on 32 ct using Tudor Silk

So, about this little reindeer, while I'm here.  I was reading some really antique documents and came across some weird glyphs. The accompanying text said a person was  to embroider them with red silk on the garment warn closest to the heart and it would protect the wearer from evil spirits.  I did my own little mashup of the symbols, weaving the charm into this reindeer's antlers. It's all hocus pocus nonsense, or maybe it's the hokey pokey and it IS what it is all about.

So here is the original model for the chart. It was done using Gloriana's regular strength silk, 1 ply over 2 on 40 count finished as an ornament. I personally would rather stitch over 2 on fine count than over 1 on any count, but I wanted a teeny tiny version of this reindeer to make into a necklace.  I know there are a lot of stitchers out there who do a lot of work over 1 who are going to love this silk.

Holiday Magick - stitched 1 over 2  on 40 ct using regular Gloriana

If you're looking for either the silk or the Holiday Magick chart, contact your favorite LNS/ONS.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Manuscripts and Malibus

I'm back today from an exciting trip to the East Coast. I'll say a bit about the Baltimore trade show in a bit, but starting at the beginning of the trip I will tell first you about my trip to the Yale Library. I got in by plane, but rented a car to get around and then to take me down to Baltimore.  When presented the rental options, those of you who have watched Repo Man will understand why the obvious choice was the Chevy Malibu.
Those of you who have not watched Repo Men, are assigned to go do so. Due to re-designs of the model since the 1964 version, the trunk may have still been big enough to hold the bodies of four dead aliens, but it was not able to hold three big suitcases. I'm glad it was just my son and myself, such that the third could go in the backseat.

It was fabulous to hook up some of the staff there at the Yale library, particulary Dr. Ann Manisana,  and see the Voynich manuscript in person.  We were in strong agreement that the first large script in the Little Alien Schoolgirl Sampler was indeed a match to the script in the manuscript. We were unable to use the sampler in any way that would shed additional light into decrypting the manuscript.  Scholars there have been able to date the manuscript to before 1550 in our current time line, which only confuses attempts to date the sampler.

Dr. Manisana was also wonderfully helpful in being able to help put some context to another of the central motifs in the sampler. There is some shared imagery in various ancient cultures.  The Babylonian Tree of Life is pictured sometimes like:
This tree is sometimes flanked by creatures, ranging from the pair Adam and Eve, to these bird-like gods (shown below "fertilizing" the tree,) to fish-headed Assyrian gods. In different contexts, the tree was also referred to as a portal, or "door of life."

The six-legged beasts that I had thought simply were specimens of the native fauna, may actually be guardians of the portal or tree.  There is a world of difference between a domesticated six-legged reindeer or bull that might be a source of dinner and a guardian of the Door of Life!  Given such historical wealth of symbolism, I am concluding they are guardians. Whether they offer any fertilizer or not, is debatable.

On a similar topic of historic ancient manuscripts, I wanted to share a bit of purchasing I recently did.  A fellow historian, Nancy Spies, has published two volumes of motifs charted from ancient manuscripts.  These are wonderfully rich and so well researched. I had them on my wish list for several years and finally saw them in person on a visit to my friend Tasha.  I think they are going/gone out of print and are becoming scarcer to find. Amazon wanted $80 each for a copy.  I was able to get copies at the Scarlet Letter for the list price of $30 (no affiliation, just a pleased customer) and these were waiting for me upon my trip back home.  Rooting around to see if Nancy had been up to anything recently I came across a copy of an earlier work on historical cardweaving that I found intriguing and had to get.  So, if you are intrigued by these ancient manuscripts and historical context, I invite you to check out her work.

So many wonderful things to be rediscovered!  I like the thought of the ancient (and the future) images being perpetuated through the use of motifs in modern handworks.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

of Manuscripts: Mine and Yours

A quick post before I head off to Baltimore for the trade show and for a special visit/detour I've set up to see some folks about particular manuscript at the Beinecke Library at Yale University. It seems a portion of my reproduction sampler includes a script very like that on a certain antique document. The document was found in 1921 by Wilfrid Voynich, but it dates back centuries before that. Voynich found it *probably* in Parma, Italy, but there is much mystery surrounding the whole thing. Nobody has been able to figure out the document - read it, or guess it's origins, as it is all in this wacky script. Voynich thought perhaps it was written by Roger Bacon in some code, but again many varying theories exist. It's simply referred to as the Voynich Manuscript - you can read more about it here or on Wikipedia.
Little Alien Schoolgirl. Note the circled area.

Here is a snip of the Voynich manuscript.

Speaking of Manuscripts, A few years back I put out a chart for an illustrated manuscript called the Book of Ink Circles, which some stitchers coined the title BoInk.  Admittedly, this one I totally made up, although I encouraged folks to select colors on their own and to personalize the initials block.

Here is Julia's (@mizzelle)  version, made with HDF silks. She's been working on it off and on for a long time, so this happy dance has been long and coming. Congrats, Julia!
Julia's BoInk

And another version with a special story behind it.  John sent me this photo of his Book of Ink Circles. He started it around the beginning of the year when he started undergoing radiation treatments for cancer.  He commented that each small block was a mini victory and he loved how bright and cheery the colors were. I think this adds up to a very special major victory for John.  I'm wishing him good health and continued stitching success.
John's BoInk

Monday, August 27, 2012

Little Alien Schoolgirl

Imagine my delight when I got a call from one of old Navy buddies saying she had come across something that I absolutely NEEDED to see.  She had gone off to work in the civilian sector in Nevada, but had apparently been brought in on this project in New Mexico.  She couldn't really tell me too much on the phone, and in fact, stated that I needed to have my security clearance reinstated/reviewed for specific limited access then show up in person.  It took nearly two months to get the the paperwork cleared (I HATE bureaucracy!) It was a stroke of luck that my Hazardous Waster Worker certs were still up to date (from my current position at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation,) as she hadn't mentioned needing it until two days before my flight down there.

I have no photos of the trip.  I wasn't permitted to bring a camera to the facility, or even my phone, as it has a camera. Entertainingly, they weren't concerned about its ability to connect to the internet, as there was so much shielding and signal jamming that reception/transmission were impossible.  I wasn't even able to get cell phone service at the barracks, which were about 20 minutes ride from the site.

After dressing down and a series of debriefings, I was led down into one of the hallways and then into a tunnel.  A thick steel access door at the end of the tunnel had a modest-sized window fitted with the oil-filled glass panes. We have those out at work too, and I hate the way they distorts the viewing, but by the browning and clouding at the edges, I was glad that the glass was in place. All of the walls, ceiling, fixtures, tables etc in the room were plain white no-frills. A long set of manipulator arms extended out over the table, with joystick handles mounted in a box below the window.  I was not allowed to mess with them - apparently it requires more winning the Golden Star Cup in Mario Kart.  Fortunately, the young man who accompanied us was both adept and certified to use the arms.

Looking at all of this stuff on the table, I realized I couldn't really identify any of it.  Blobs of metal with little dials and levers, something that I SWEAR looked like a cube of lime jello with mini-marshmallows in it, a small field notebook that seemed to have no pages or way of opening it. So I turned to Liesl and asked her something along the lines of, "Spill. What gives - why am I here?"  Her face split into a wide grin as she reveled in her, "Ta Da! Take a look at this" moment.  The tech then marionettes the arms over to a copper tube and deftly pulls out what I first took to be a scroll.

He unrolled it with the two hands and used a metal cube to weight down the lower end to keep it from rolling back up. Liesl wiggled anxiously and pointed, "This is why we needed you to come see this. You can help us figure out what all this means."  I had to laugh a little, with the great secrecy of the whole trip and all of the cloak and dagger government facility stuff, and the final plea played out like "Help us Obi Wan, you are our only hope."  It was certainly the most elaborate practical joke she'd ever played on me, and with the travel expenses and the facility access it just didn't make any sense why she would have gone to the trouble.  But then I looked around again and knew I was truly inside a real facility. The detectors and equipment, the contamination clothing, the oil window - they were all genuine.  I was here, looking through the window, seeing these crazy things that I don't even know how to describe, including what appeared to be a stitched sampler.

My first request to Mr. Arms was to flip it over so the right side was facing upward.  N00b. The rad con tech had given us a 60 minute zone time. I have no idea how much of that I used just standing there and looking at the thing without saying a word.
My reproduction of the sampler I saw
Liesl said she would fill me in on as much background info as she knew when got back to her office space, but that it was basically one of the artifacts from a time capsule that had appeared.

I didn't know where to begin in examining it. I knew the colors were somewhat distorted because of the oil-filled window, so taking what I believed to be white table tops and extrapolating from there, I identified a working palette.  The stitching was in remarkably good condition, having been in the inerted environment here, although I don't know where it began its story.  It appeared to be stitched on some evenly woven fabric, but there was nothing on the table to give me an accurate sense of scale.

Some of the motifs appeared to be pictorial, but not of subjects I've seen before on this type of embroidery. I guess I should say I am in no way sure what this type of embroidery even is, although the stitches appeared to be your basic simple cross stitch.  There were a few lines of script and some symbolic text.  Normally I would consider it fortunate that the sampler was named and dates, but the date provides no insight into anything and, to me, has been completely meaningless so far. I was able to go in a total of seven times, the last four even being permitted to have a pencil and a sheet of paper. Six months later with needle and thread, I've done my best to recreate the anomaly I saw before me.

I'm putting out a plea that if anybody has any familiarity with the symbols or can help interpret the text, their help is most welcome. I've been working to decipher parts and will continue to post entries as I figure things out, if I do.

I am so fortunate that the non-disclosure paperwork did granted some license to share "my version" of this finding as long as I didn't mention any of the specifics of the facility or, perhaps more importantly, the other contents of the time capsule. I assume this is largely in part to the unlikelihood of anyone believing a word of it. I wasn't able to get Arms to adjust any of the other artifacts that I might see them more closely or see a hidden face. I image they are suspecting at least a few of them to be weapons or dangerous in some fashion.

And who says stitching is boring?

Thursday, May 10, 2012

You've been busy

I've had some wonderful photographs of finishes show up in my inbox over the last few weeks!

Tammy used Old Maid of the Abyss from Vikki Clayton's Hand-Dyed Fibers to stitch up Cirque des Cercles. I LOVE that thread color. Vikki sure makes some beautiful silks.
Tammy's Cirque des Cercles

And Pam personalized this Cirque des Cercles to make it into a birth sampler for her new granddaughter Stella.  Beautiful frame and mat job to really set off the embroidery!!!  Pam used Gloriana's Fallen Leaves silk on Legacy's Oaten Scone 34 ct. linen.
Cirque de Stella
Lois, the owner of Nedlewerkes in Copperas Cove, TX, sent this photo of a Blackstone Fantasy Garden hat trick. She had been working on it using Carrie's Silks when I last saw her and it was just beautiful. They were having a stitch along at the shop.  It's nice to see the different framing options chosen.
BFG Stitch Along
Linda shares this picture of Peregrination. Very cool. That is a fun Celtic chart that I always liked, and we don't get to see too many of them. Peregrination means wanderings, which is precisely what those Celtic paths do.
Linda's Peregrination

 Lovely work, Ladies! Congratulations on the finishes - we're all Happy Dancing with you.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

The Long Tail

The "long tail" is a term used in the publishing industry to describe that trickle of sales that come after a product's main sales peak has passed.  I've heard comments from cross stitchers wondering why charts ever need to go out of print until the designer does anything short of die.  For most designers, it's just not that easy or profitable to juggle the inventory and logistics once sales of an item drop below a certain threshold; it's easier to pull the plug.

In attempts to keep things looking professional and consistent, I've outsources most of the Ink Circles chart printing.  I like the look and feel of heavy cardstock color covers and thick paper, double sided.  That said, I've reached a point with a few titles where the couple copies sold per year does not justify re-ordering from the print shop (100 minimum.)  So we had some options:

a) You guys can buy lots and lots of older titles and keep them alive for-evuh. (I'm actually okay with this option, so go for it if you like :-)
b) Say bye-bye to Beau Leggy and others, which makes us both sad.
c) Accept lesser quality printed charts. C'mon face it - can your printer print double-sided card stock full page prints? Do you enjoy swapping papers in the tray and have you mastered manual duplexing?
d) Hire a beast.

Meet the Beast.
So, besides being the size and weight of a VW bug, this new printer does wonderful things, or at least I'm sure it will when I get it all figured out.  I do know that bottom drawer is the "heavy media tray" and it will duplex cardstock.  It has drivers for Windows 7, unlike my old laserjet that lost most of its features when I migrated to the new laptop and had to start using a generic driver.  It has a hard drive that should allow me to store commonly used print jobs so I can access them without even using the computer.

I've also found a place where I can order some very nice looking covers for a fantastic price, but only in giant quantities - 1000, 2000, etc.   So, some newer charts will initially have these covers while the beast takes care of the black and white parts.

I'm hoping that this will allow me to better manage inventory, keep printing costs reasonable, and not spend all day swapping feed paper and running off with a USB thumb drive to borrow an xp laptop from a kid when I needed to print on the old laserjet. It may or may not help with my run-on sentences.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Frak This

Here is a peek at the current piece I am stitching.  It's another in the Love Letters series and I hope to have it available for the Online Needlework Show mid-April. This time I'm celebrating the Fraktur style.  If you thought reading something in regular Blackletter-style script was a challenge, then you will understand that Fraktur script (a very curvy variant descended from blackletter) is even more of a challenge. Plus, the words are usually in German, frequently even archaic German.

Although you'd never want to read a novel typeset in Fraktur, the alphabet is so beautiful and elegant that it continues to be used in an ornamental fashion. You'll recognize it on everything from Gothic-looking t-shirt designs to marriage certificates.  Mathematicians may remember working with Fraktur letters alongside all those Greek characters. Here is a pangram (in German, of course,) a sentence using all of the letters in the alphabet, for you to see how lovely the text looks.  German pangrams are more challenging because they must include the letters with umlauts too. I'm including only the capital letters in the stitched piece.

The art style goes hand-in-hand with this typeface is the Pennsylvania Dutch folk art, also called Fraktur.  You can see online and in museums examples of documents lettered in Fraktur calligraphy adorned with elaborate ink and watercolor drawings.  The most common motifs are birds, hearts, and plants with crazy wild flowers. I do like crazy flowers. For something different, and I think appropriate to the style and its time period, I am stitching this one with Gentle Arts Simply Wool threads. It is such a different feel working with the wool.  You use a single strand, but it still has sooooo much body over 2 on 32, which I am attempting to show in the close-up below. I'm finding they work up better than I had expected; my hands are a rough and dry mess. Frogging is not nice (but is it ever?) and the needle is a bitch to thread, but once I get going the thread hasn't frayed or gotten thin or lost its twist on me.  There is a limited palette available, but I've been able to find colors that work.  All in all, I'm really glad I've tried it.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Nashville Cats Are out of the Bag

What a wonderful trip and a great show TNNA trade show IMHO.  Coming home Monday was a bit exhausting (checking out of the hotel, returning the rental car, three airplane legs, digging the car out from the snow in Spokane, and a three hour drive to get home,) but we were fueled on enough show excitement, caffeine and chocolate to keep us running.  My boys were all happy to see us - Hubby, son, and Toaster dog- as were we, they.

As always it was great fun to see in person all of the people I normally only get to type at. Things were actually busy enough that I know I missed visiting with many folks.

I tried something new this show by not advertising ahead of time what the new releases were going to be, thinking this would give some advantage to the shops that paid the costs of attending the show.  It also gave them the fun of surprises.  Many of the shops actually bring their own scanners to the show for a midnight web update with new goodies! Since pictures of all three of my releases are already all over the internet (even in shops that didn't attend!) I figure there's no point in keeping things off my own site...

The Nashville Cats are out of the bag.

First up, Rosetta: This is your classic monochromatic, geometrical-based, no-punch-line Ink Circles design. It's shown in Gloriana silk in Cranberry on R&R Espresso Linen 40 count.  I'm certain we'll be seeing some great other fiber combinations from stitchers soon.

Next, Nut Jobs: Also stitched in Gloriana on R&R 40 count linen

Believe me, I know that allergies are no joke, but I think we've gotten a little carried away with warning labels of all types. My inspiration for this sampler is below. If you can't read the label on this tube of printing INK, it says "gluten-free" in three languages! If you don't find that funny then I officially proclaim you as humorless or unable to help it due to some unfortunate circumstance such as employment as a product liability lawyer for some corporation.

Earbuds. The third new piece is the culmination of all those tiny 10 x 10 album covers you might have seen on FaceBook.  Each of the little albums is mounted on a tiny neodymium magnet and a steel plate is behind the stitching. You can move the albums around to show "what's playing" on your MP3 player.  We are currently listening to some Rolling Stones.  If you want to see my ink drawing that started this concept, look here. Watch for a follow-on chart with more music selections. I had more than one person tell me I was the "nut job" after seeing this one. :-P

So look for these three new charts in your favorite shop ONLY. (It will be a long while before I offer them directly for retail order.) Have an awesome week.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Those Little Details

When reading a book, I find those little details the author has woven in essential to transporting me to that other world. It's never enough just to have a decent story line or interesting, developed characters.  Good authors thoroughly research their topics and sprinkle in enough authenticity to bring the reader along on their ride.

Many stitchers have run across books by author Monica Ferris, particularly her series of mysteries starting with Crewel World revolving around various forms of needlework in the clues and crimes.  Monica's latest book Theadbare hit the streets just before Christmas:
Turns out that Monica had visited Nordic Needle in Fargo as part of the research for this book. She just happened to spot the chart my Mum designed called Fjord Ponies during her visit.
And somehow, this happened...right there in black and white on page 247.
We didn't know ahead of time.  I think better than any surprise I could have arranged for Mum.  So, of course, I had to get a special copy for my Mum for Christmas.  Monica was so sweet to work with.  She autographed a copy for us. I know my Mum will treasure this forever. (It's her Andy Warhol moment.)
So pick up a copy and enjoy the mystery and all of its little details.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Put it in a box - I'll take it

I was so delighted to see the Ashley in Louisiana chose an Olde Colonial box to finish up her Quiddity piece. She stitched it using Belle Soie Mango and Caron Waterlilies Indigo silks on 36 count Edinburgh linen in Antique Gold.  It's going to be a gift for her Mom, and I know she will just treasure it.

If you've not used one of these boxes before, you should definitely check them out.  They come in all sorts of standard sizes and can be special ordered to a custom size.  Also several different molding options.  The top piece is like an open frame. You mount your stitching on foam core or mat board and insert it from underneath. Use small tacks or a framing staple gun to secure it in the window. Then cover the inside of that top with some pretty paper (from your scrapbooking stash) to give the inside a complete finished look.  The bottom part of the box is already lined with a nice velvety something.

Again, lovely job, Ashley. Your Mom raised you well.