Monday, June 28, 2010

Hardanger 101

Enough interest has been expressed for me to try to post a tutorial, of sorts, for the Norwegian Hardanger embroidery. I'm going to try to create a new lesson once a week to give everyone time to find materials, and practice the stitches described. I anticipate at least a dozen lessons. If you have any questions, or I don't explain something clearly enough, please don't hesitate to ask about it. Here goes!

Lesson 1--Introduction, Equipment, and Resources

Traditional Hardanger is a type of embroidery done on an even weave fabric in tone on tone colors. That's a starting point at least, and where we are going to begin. It can be done with as few as three types of stitches, or as many as a dozen or more. We'll just keep going until we get bored. See? Some of you are already done.

Even weave fabric in 22 to 32 count is typically used for Hardanger. Since it is the largest, and easiest to find locally, we'll use 22 count. White and Ivory are the traditional colors. I have found small packets at both Michael's and Hobby Lobby. Later, I will give you online and mail order sources for supplies.

If you are unfamiliar with embroidery fabric, the thread count indicates the number of threads per inch. In this case, there are 22 threads per inch. If you look closely at a single thread of the fabric, you will notice that it is made up of two parallel strands. This means that it is possible to "split a stitch", or bring your needle up between the two strands when stitching.
It will become second nature to avoid this because it can throw your whole pattern off. Calling it to your attention should be enough to help you watch out for the mistake.
The fabrics can be made of cotton, blends, or linen. I would caution you against beginning with linen. The threads of a linen fabric are not consistently even. This will not be a problem after you've had a bit of practice, but probably isn't the best choice to start with.

Perle Cotton thread (most commonly available from DMC and Anchor) in sizes 8 and 5 is the thread we are going to learn the stitches with at first. One ball of thread is equal to two skeins. Traditional pieces are white thread on white fabric or ivory on ivory. For demonstration purposes, I am going to stitch with a contrasting color on ivory (ivory photographs slightly better than white). White and ivory also have the advantage of being easiest to find locally. Contrary to logic, the number sizes of fabric, fibers, and needles all increase as the physical size shrinks. Don't ask me why. I didn't make that decision, but a size 8 thread is smaller than a size 5. Don't we wish dress sizes worked the same way?

As with the fabric, look closely at a single strand of thread and you will notice that it is made of two fibers twisted together. Just like with the fabric, you can also "split a stitch" by dividing the fibers of your thread with the needle. Admittedly, this is much less common. It takes a really talented goof up like myself to accomplish such a task.

You will need tapestry needles in sizes 24 and 26. The good news about tapestry needles is that they have a blunt point, so if you have a habit of jabbing yourself  like I do when I stitch, you will be less likely to draw blood. A pin cushion for your needles is optional, but recommended. Your family will thank you. I have several needles tucked under the flap of my scissors case so that they travel flat and without the need of a pin cushion.

The only other thing you will need is a pair of embroidery scissors. They vary in price from cheap to ridiculous. Just make sure that you invest in a good pair with sharp points. In Hardanger, the points of the scissors are equally as important as the blades. You will also want to make sure that they have some type of guard for when you are not using them. I bought a pair of 3 Claveles for $25 about 12 years ago and they are still sharp. Do not ever allow anyone to use them for anything other than embroidery. Construction paper snowflakes are out of the question.

I don't care if your beloved grandmother does tell you otherwise, do NOT use a hoop with Hardanger embroidery. It is damaging to the fabric and will make your piece look like a used hankie.

Magnifying lamp
A magnifying lamp can be a huge help when working on the close weave fabric and fine stitches of Hardanger. It's easier to get used to using one in the beginning than having to retrain yourself later. I would recommend one on a stand rather than the ones that hang around your neck, but that's just personal preference.

I will provide the patterns for the pieces we will be making together, but there are many good resources for pattern books and the other materials to feed your Hardanger needs. Below are some favorites.
  • Nordic Needle is a superb mail order source for needlework supplies of all kinds. Nordic Needle works well when you know what you want. They also have the largest selection of pattern books.
  • Stitchville USA, located near Minneapolis, is a stitcher's paradise. It's a great place to visit to see all of the possibilities in fabric and thread. An advantage is that if you have a specific fabric, they will help you choose the right thread for it (or vice versa), even over the phone.
So, to summarize, here is a list of things you need to acquire:
  1. A piece of 22 count white or ivory fabric, 12 inches square
  2. 1 skein of matching Perle Cotton thread in size 8 and one in size 5
  3. Embroidery scissors
  4. Tapestry needles, size 26, 24
  5. Patience

Friday, June 25, 2010

Lincoln Park Zoo

Since the weather cooperated last week, we scrapped our plans for the Adler Planetarium and spent the day at the Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago. Last summer, we went with a group from our church and it ended up being a horrible experience. Not because of the people from the church, but because I went unprepared to deal with J's sensory disorder. Any chance we had of enjoying ourselves went out the window when I ignored what should be second nature by now. At the point in the day when all three of us were in tears, I promised the girls that we would come back someday and do it right. I am happy to report that this time, all went well.

The highlight of the day was the Aardvark. I am glad that my children can see creatures they wouldn't normally see, but zoos sometimes seem a little sad to me; especially when an animal acts the like the equivalent of an autistic child rocking itself under the kitchen table. It just reinforces how I feel about the stewardship of God's creation. But that aardvark was thumbing his nose at us all. He might have been in captivity, but he wasn't about to act the way his keepers wanted him to act. He was going to ignore the fake termite mound and sleep in the Rubbermaid garbage can and there wasn't a dang thing they could do about it. I loved it.

We only got through half of the zoo, so we'll have to go back and finish later this year. Some thoughts:
  • There is no such thing as a Free zoo.
  • People from Wisconsin in extended cab pickup trucks should not attempt U turns on Michigan avenue.
  • I loved squished pennies. 51 cents and you've got a souvenir. Hang the gift shop.
  • There is no accounting for taste in art in Chicago.
  • We don't care if they did change the name. We're still calling it the Sears Tower.
  • J knows more about animals than I ever will, and I'm not afraid to defer to her.

Monday, June 21, 2010

The Great Turtle Adventure

Remember what I said about God bringing creatures our way so we could learn about them? Imagine my surprise when I found myself at the back of our yard early one morning, in my pjs, scooping up a turtle.
Now you must understand something. Our yard is three acres in the center of miles and miles of cornfields. No lakes. No rivers. Opportunistic predators abound.
So many unanswered questions, so little time.

Occasionally, we do see the Painted Turtles around here, but to be brief, this was a Three-Toed Box turtle. Non-native, which means some (insert derogatory term of your choice) probably picked it up in the south and thought they'd be clever and bring it home as a pet, got tired of it (they can live 100 years!) and let it go.
I didn't get in touch with anyone who knew what to do (we even went to Red Oak), so I put it back outside. If I had known what it was at the time, I would have known that was the wrong thing to do. But this (insert derogatory term of your choice) thought it best to leave well enough alone. If we had gotten it to our naturalist friend, he would have taken care of it until he went south later and returned it to where it belongs. Now it will wander in ever widening circles searching for familiar territory, which it will never find. I can only pray that one of it's circles will bring it back across our path so I can fix my mistake.

Yes, it's "only" a turtle. Not an immortal soul (Tuck Everlasting notwithstanding). But it brought home to me that the Stewardship that God has entrusted to us is a serious business. To have another's life in your hands, regardless of significance, is not to be taken lightly.

I draw the line at ticks though.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Red Oak Nature Center

The girls and I have picked two projects for this summer. The first is that we are reading books together that take place in the Great Lakes states. Little House, Caddie Woodlawn, Minn of the Mississippi,Paddle-to-the-Sea, and the Mitt and Minn series are some of the titles on our list (feel free to suggest others). MC and I have this hare-brained idea/dream of someday taking the kids on a road trip around the Great Lakes. The trip involves peaches, cheese (to fix the problem caused by the peaches), and wild rice (to fix the cheese...). It also includes bridges, walking across the Mississippi, and saying things like, "Oh, buckets." By the time either one of us can afford this trip, our children will likely have other plans. But we can dream.

Our second summer plan is to take a field trip every week. Only two of them on the list are places that the girls have seen before. We went to Red Oak Nature Center last week (as part of the Great Turtle Adventure, which you will hear about next post.) and my parents unknowingly took them to the Phillips Park Zoo, which was on the list too. From what I hear, the zoo didn't go over so well (there wasn't even a gift shop!), which makes me glad that I wasn't there.
Here are some of our pics from Red Oak. M insisted on having her picture taken with every critter in the place.

A number of our wildlife questions are directed to a gentleman from our church who works for the forestry service. He is a naturalist, wildlife rehabilitator and educator. One of the interesting things that has come about from our conversations is that he has offered to let us keep a gorgeous orange Corn snake as a science experiment. The educator/homeschooling mom side of my brain wants to jump at the opportunity. The descendant-of-Eve side isn't so sure. Of course, J wanted a snake as a pet several years ago and I just saw M and her little cousin carrying toads around the yard, so I'm pretty sure both the girls are on board with the idea. I'll let you know which side of my brain wins.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Frog and Toad are Friends

I am convinced that God brings things across our path so that we can delight in his creation more and learn to glorify him. We are forever finding incredible stuff in our back yard and each new discovery takes us in unexpected directions.

If "the heavens declare the glory of God and the sky above proclaims his handiwork", then my window wells are proof positive of his sense of humor.

Zoom in and see if you can count all of the toads. Don't forget the one half buried in the mud. We have three window wells. Only one of them is big enough to climb down into to rescue these guys, but we've gotten creative. It gets pretty silly when they don't want to be rescued. I've lost track of how many dozens we've pulled out (8 this morning), but it would do Pharaoh proud.

This year, we found someone new. This is a Green Frog (identifiable by the fold behind her tympanic membrane and dorsal stripe. Don't worry. I had to ask too). She is about three inches long (males have a tympanum larger than their eye). Compared to the toads, boy, could she hop! High, far, and in unpredictable directions, thus causing delighted shrieks all around.

She found her way in, and out, of the girls' wading pool. I can't believe people eat frogs. Nu-uh. No way.
Several of our recent finds identified a hole in my library (don't gasp, it does happen). I did not have any kind of field guide for reptiles or amphibians. That problem has since been corrected. Hooray for Roger Tory Peterson!

Caper got to make a new friend too.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Trip Across America

Prairie Dog and I have started hunting the Trip Across America series of letterboxes by Cherokee Rose 2. Okay, so she has already found quite a number of them, but she is graciously going with me anyway. So far, we have seen some interesting things, the preserves have been really nice, and I am anticipating looking for the rest of the boxes.

Here's the thing though...I'm not going to make a separate post every time we find more of these boxes. I'll probably just add more photos to this slideshow. I'll try to clue you in to updates in subsequent posts though.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Knee High...

No, not that one, silly.
I'm talking about the saying "Knee high by the Fourth of July". There are numerous old expressions based on farm life. This particular one refers to growing corn. If the corn was at least knee high by July 4th, then the crop's yield was expected to be favorable. Then came hybrids.

This photo was taken on June 6th. You can see that the corn is already several inches above my knees. How tall will it be by Independence Day? Stay tuned...

Isn't she cute standing out there in her wellies? Minutes later, those clouds behind us let loose. If we get a good rain followed by lots of sun, the corn grows almost visibly. Corn loves humidity. Can you actually hear corn grow? You bet. If you don't believe me, come on by in the next couple weeks. Bring a lawn chair.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Hennepin Canal Trail

In the past, the girls and I have hiked (Is it really hiking if you're just walking along a fairly level, groomed path?) parts of the I & M canal trail. It's easy enough for J, and we always see really amazing stuff. Last year, we happened to be there when the Ruby Crowned Kinglets were migrating through. You can't plan things like that.

More recently, we have started exploring the Hennepin Canal Trail which goes from the Illinois River to the Mississippi. The canal trails offer plenty of opportunities to learn everything from history and geography to engineering and resource management. The girls make me explain the function of a Lock every time we're near one.
It also helps that Shorty, Hart x6, and Pitties have planted a 52 box series based on the Wizard of Oz along the Hennepin Canal. All of them are amazing carvers and the boxes that we have found so far are very well done. I don't really put much stock in the Blue Diamond status for letterboxes, but these boxes really are a cut above the average. Shorty hand made all of the logbooks with his Bind it All (I think there might be a new addiction there) and you can purchase Oz logbooks from him if you want to keep all of the stamp images together in one place. There is also a Yahoo Group just for this series. No, they didn't pay me to advertise.

So, a couple of weeks ago, I took two nephews and a daughter down and we spent some time around the Visitor Center in Sheffield (which means I'm getting the boxes out of order, but enduring fewer "How much farther?" questions). They have a mini museum inside, mostly about the wildlife around the canal. We hunted some boxes, saw ridiculously huge flathead catfish, and locked ourselves out of the van. Then we spent more time in the museum while we waited for the gracious officer from the Bureau County Sheriff's office who came and opened the door in under a minute. We managed to get C home to his baseball game only 2 minutes late. I love happy endings. The Psalmist declares the "my times are in your hands." What a perfect opportunity to practice satisfaction with what God decrees for our days and not "kick against the goads".

Since this is such an extensive series, I will periodically add more pictures to the slideshow as we have more adventures. I'll try to post updates to let you know when there are new photos.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Piece de Resistance

From the moment that I first saw the pattern for this doily, I wanted to make it. That was more than a decade ago. The French term "piece de resistance" literally means "piece of resistance". It represents the best part of something, or something which resists the normal conventions of comparable items. Not only is this piece my best effort to date, it also resisted me every step of the way.
When I purchased the book of charts, I had quite a number of pieces behind me and was long finished with lessons. But those four Edelweiss flowers were a perplexity. So I called up my Hardanger teacher, but she had never tackled them before either. Fine. I struggled, but I managed to figure it out myself. The first one that was acceptable took an hour and measured less than an inch square.

That nifty Danish Picot Buttonhole stitch was another story. Several people that I talked to said something like "Oh, I haven't quite gotten to that level yet." Gulp. I'll make it short and just tell you that it took a phone call to Nordic Needle in Fargo before it became clear. It is very delicate and adds a great deal to otherwise straight lines, but it was also costly in time management.

The Triple Cable stitch, thankfully, covers a lot of space quickly--provided that you keep your mind on your counting. Satin stitching is also fast. The Maltese Cross filler stitch...not so much. I learned several new (apparently very advanced) stitches and the whole thing only took 29 hours.
Then, while I was cutting the completed piece out, I nicked the buttonhole stitch. If you know anything about stitching, you'll know this was a fatal mistake. Buttonhole stitching keeps the fabric from unraveling and the fabric holds the buttonhole stitches in place. You cannot have one without the other. Imagine trying to tie your shoelaces with the top half of the eyelets missing. I was devastated. But I couldn't scrap the piece. It took me a long time, but I managed to carefully pull the clipped thread and rework a new one.
A trained eye might be able to find the flaw, but it would have to be looking pretty close. However, I think the doily will always be fragile in that spot, so I would never want to wash it. I framed it instead. Ta-Da!

The piece is worked with white Perle Cotton thread over a very soft, 28 count Lugana in pale sage. It looks fantastic in my kitchen.
I'm pretty sure it's an indication of some type of syndrome, but I've already started another one to enter in the county fair.

Thursday, June 10, 2010


The girls did not go with me to Princeton in May. Instead, Prairie Dog and I hunted the Box of the Month and another series by Shorty (Comics). It was a great day, in spite of driving all the way to Buffalo Rock SP only to find All the trails closed.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Has The Rain A Father?

I love this photo. More than that, I loved standing on our porch as the thunderheads raced across the the sky. Moments later it was raining "pitchforks and hammer handles". Until I came to live in the country, I had little appreciation for the drama of an approaching storm.

Many people, but children especially (and Kirby), are terrified of storms. The girls and I have water music concerts and remind ourselves that the Almighty "has cleft a channel for the torrents of rain, and a way for the thunderbolt." (Job 38:25). That means He knows what it's going to hit before He releases the lightning from his hand. Ponder that for a moment of two. I can never guarantee that a natural disaster won't affect my girls. But I can assure them that it will never be outside of God's control.

Chapter 37 of Job is a wonderful storm passage too.

Here are some of our Water Music songs:
Showers of Blessing
Spring of Living Water
Deep 'n Wide (in spite of it's utter lack of any spiritual significance)
On Jordan's Stormy Banks
Higher Ground
Shall We Gather at the River
Shelter in the Time of Storm
I'll be a Sunbeam
All Hail The Power (Yes, I've explained about the hail)
O the Deep Deep Love of Jesus
Heaven Came Down
My Father Planned it All
It Is Well With My Soul

There are plenty more, but it's not raining now, so I'm having trouble thinking of them. :)

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

April BOM

I know, I know. It's about time!

These are the pictures from our trip to Princeton in April for the Box of the Month. With the exception of the ones that she is in, M took all the photos.

Monday, June 7, 2010

The Amber Waves are Green

There is something so peaceful about watching the wind ripple across a field of wheat. Very Little House on the Prairie. Crop Rotation means that we don't get to see it here at home every year (we have fields in 5 locations), so I love it even more when we do.
This is what it looks like before they start writing songs about it.
"The fragrance of the grass is always sweetest after a hail storm." (Unknown)

Tuesday, June 1, 2010


Still crossing the cyber desert. Must....have.....internet....soon.....

A virus destroyed all the data on my hard drive. Thank goodness for Carbonite! I have now been without a computer for 2 weeks, 4 days, 7 hours, 42 minutes and counting. And I have soooo much to share with you! From turtles to turkeys. Just wait.