Blog on Snooze

Absence makes the heart grow fonder … right?

Recent months have been just too impacted with this and that, making for very little blog time. Seems it’s when I have so many things to chat about that I don’t have the time to get it written.

Such is life. I’ll be back soon. Till then, wishing you fun in the summer sun and many, many smiles!

Celebrating with Art & Spirit

Last week when I officially became one of the golden oldies, I decided a break from the office was in order, even if it was a work day.  It was my birthday. I had the right.  Right?  So camera in hand, I set off to enjoy the blue-sky day, in 70-75 degree temps, and with no signs of allergy-triggered sneezing to stop me.

Facebook Photo – Red Wing Visitor and Convention Center

My first stop was at the Red Wing Arts Association Depot Gallery to capture the view beyond the railroad tracks that run behind the building. If you’ve never visited the RWAA Depot Gallery, understand that the building is exactly that – a neoclassical depot style that once served Chicago, Milwaukee and Saint Paul and Pacific Railroad, where folks passed through the front door to buy tickets and then out the back door to board the train. Built in 1905 it was restored in 1990 and the building is now listed on the National Registry of Historic Places. It continues to be an Amtrak stop and houses the Red Wing Visitors and Convention Bureau, as well as the office for the Red Wing Art Association.

I could have walked around the building for a pic, but walked inside with another agenda, hoping an art exhibit I’d heard about that had started on May 5th was still there.  A sign greeted me just inside the door, “Visions and Viewpoints – Artwork of the Dakota and Ojibwe People.” It described the free exhibition as a collection of works created by a dozen talented Native American artists. I had missed the events of the opening day that the director described as “awesome”, but although there were no story tellers and dancers on this quiet weekday (as great as that would have been to see) I wasn’t disappointed.  I came for the artwork that sang its own songs and danced its own stories.

There’s just something that tugs at me when I see Native American art. Maybe it’s the impressive works that depict Nature or the materials used from Nature, or maybe it’s the history and inspirational stories each item tells without saying one word.  Perhaps it’s the feeling of Spirit that exudes from the most beautiful, vibrant color combinations ever known to my eyes.  Or it could be that it’s simply a genetic thing, passed down from my Oneida great-grandmother.  But no matter what it is, it is

I turned toward the exhibition rooms while whispering, “Happy Birthday to me!”

The dance regalia held my attention for quite some time, being that I’m drawn to anything stitched. Without a crowd to weave and peak through, I was able to linger and mosey up close to examine every detail.

“Holy stitches!”  my self proclaimed.

Much of the work was not hand embroidery, nor was it embroidered on a computerized machine via a digitized file. The work was clearly free motion (or freehand) machine embroidery – a process that requires a high degree of control and patience, as well as time to achieve the intended shapes without distorting elements. (At least, that’s my opinion derived from one unforgettable experience of failed attempts.)

I bowed in deepest respect to artist Dana Goodwin’s dance shawl “Modern Woodland Floral”, a breathtaking combination of applique, embroidery and serious bling!

Other shawls of beautifully stitched stories adorned the walls, such as one by Chholing Taha, “Moose with Tree of Life” as seen at her website: Shawl Lady Dot Com.

The exhibit by a dozen Native American talented artists including paintings, sculptures and beadwork that reflects their culture, will be on exhibit in the Vogel Gallery at the RWAA Depot Gallery until June 24th.

Exhibiting artists: Nakoma Volkman, MN; Frank Big Bear, MN; Pat and Gage Kruse, WI; JoAnne Bird, SD; Laura Youngbird, MN; Chholing Taha, MN; Dyani Reynolds-White Hawk, MN; Charles Hilliard, MN-WI; Lori Ann Biggs, IN; John K. Sterner; Dana Goodwin and Dennis Williams, MN.

Artwork of the Dakota and Ojibwe PeopleAs for a photo of the view from behind the Depot, this is as close as I got. Lingering inside with this awe-inspiring exhibition of art and Spirit – “Views and Viewpoints” – cut my visit short.   It’s okay.  The outside view will always be there.

I proceeded to take an enjoyable little road trip along the Mississippi to Lake City for lunch on the shore of Lake Pepin. And that was only half of my celebration of gratitude for making it one more year, but I’ll save the rest for another time.  For now, let me just say, Day One of 60 was a very fine day, indeed!

Photos – “Visions and Viewpoints” Exhibition posted with RWAA Depot Gallery permission.

Stitches Magazine is 25!

Back in 1986 I was a contented, part-time print artist without one thought about machine embroidery. It was a nice, peaceful few hours each week at a custom print and embroidery shop where I could get lost in the black ink on white paper that would be magically turned to colors by sublimation or screen-print ink. Ah yes, it’s amazing what can happen with a technical pen while the mind flies away into the rainbow gardens.

Then one day my boss approached me with the proposition of full time hours if I could learn how to use the Melco Digitrac®. (See History at Wikipedia Machine Embroidery.) I looked over at the tall easel-like monstrosity with a sliding T-square shaped crossbar and input pad with a transparent plastic bulls eye that moved on an X-Y axis, devouring the space next to the Melco Super Star embroidery machine, daisy chained to a floppy drive, as well as a tape punch machine. “Ummm, I don’t think so.”

Understand, I already had a career as the local hospital’s head cook and I would soon become the kitchen supervisor after finishing one more month of school for certification. I was set. It was too late in the game for me to start a new thing. He gave me a key to the shop and the manual and told me to “play” any time I could fit it in, and then decide.  “I have school,” I protested.

This is your school,” he replied, with a gesture towards the monstrosity.  Well, what artist addicted to hand embroidery wouldn’t be curious enough to accept the opportunity for at least the experience?!  So I did. And it didn’t take long – a few days, maybe a week – when I knew I would no longer be creating menus and cracking eggs every morning.

But it wasn’t easy!  Back in those days (omg, I’m starting to sound like Grandma!) we didn’t have personal computers, much less the Internet. There were no schools or books for “punching” which was the common term then for “digitizing”, evolving from the tape punch process it required. We thought it a grand transition when we moved up to the floppy drive – the big one that really flopped. Without editing software or even a personal computer, trial and error was the only real teacher. I taped a “Do Not Disturb” sign on the Digitrac and insisted on working evenings to avoid interruptions. Other employees who had a message or question for me knew enough to stand quietly in my peripheral vision until I turned to speak with them, and if they didn’t … well … it wasn’t pretty.

So that first year was quite intense with late nights, punching and watching every stitch sew simultaneously on the machine, which I also had to learn how to operate and maintain to be sure in my testing of work on different fabrics, stabilizers and thread weights that any error was not caused by the punching that created the design. Back then there was absolutely no way to cancel a punched function without eliminating all of the work, so I learned to create very small files to avoid those duh-moments like forgetting to punch the needle down and watching the machine dance in the air for 15 minutes after an hour of digitizing. Then the small files were combined by writing a program using the machine’s keyboard – a process done very carefully, because the only way to test the program was by running the machine – a time and material waster if the program had errors. And I pushed my tenacious self through the turmoil of fabric puckers, columns too wide or too thin, the use of underlay where and why, thread breaks, gaps between objects, disappearing stitches, loose stitches and unraveling stitches, stitches too short or too long, and coverage too sparse or too dense. And I’ll spare you what was involved in creating “special stitches” of motifs and patterns in fills that were created only by manually sectioning each element into multiple objects. Needless to say, I desperately struggled while sinking deep into the land of stitched woes!

And then … that glorious moment arrived when my boss placed into my hands the very first issue of Stitches Magazine. I swear, I heard the angels sing! I wore out the pages of that issue, finding the answers to a year’s worth of built up questions. Since then, each issue has brought a continuous stream of ideas and solutions for all of us in this industry, and personally, I can honestly say I couldn’t have gotten as far without it!

So, with the deepest of my own gratitude and on behalf of those who struggled their way up and through this industry, allow me to wish Stitches Magazine a well-deserved and sincere congratulations on 25 years!

This also seems to be an appropriate time to announce that entries are now being accepted for this year’s Stitches Golden Needle Awards! There are a couple of new exciting rules that will leave no excuse for not giving it a go. From the editor, Nicole Rollender:

Enter the Stitches Golden Needle Awards Today

Our challenge to you: Enter ONE design in this year’s Stitches Golden Needle Awards for embroidery and digitizing excellence. Choose the best work that you currently have and show it off to us. We want to make this year’s contest the best we’ve ever had: http://bit.ly/gAzZ4W

Remember, you don’t have to fit this project into your schedule – just submit the best stuff you’ve already done!!!

And on another stitch … in regard to the announcement in my last blog about Moonlight’s Design Shoppe soon to close, I’ve found it’s necessary to change the word “soon” to “in the near future”. Disassembling a sister domain of e-commerce without affecting the other sister domain for a custom digitizing service, I’ve discovered, will take a bit longer than expected. (I’ll whine about that process another day.) So, in the mean time, I will continue to deliver sales and will see about dusting off some of the cyber-cobwebs with a few page upgrades, but for now, my new stock designs will be introduced each month exclusively at Masterpiece Embroidery. (A big welcome to the newest member of the group, award winning digitizer, Erich Campbell who submitted three wonderful designs to this month’s collection!)  Masterpiece Embroidery is the place to shop for embroiderers looking to increase their stock library with high quality designs created by 15 skilled digitizers at an unbelievable price of $9.99 – and that’s the total cost for over 30 designs! No memberships necessary, no sneaky fees – just one short month before the price changes, so don’t delay!

Till next time kids, keep on stitchin’! 🙂

Precious Treasures Come Home

Twenty years ago I had to say “good-bye” to special things dear to my heart – precious treasures that had been handed down to my grandmother from her grandmothers. These items disappeared after her death, and it was somewhat of a heart-wrenching experience to have to accept I would never see or hold these beautiful heirlooms again. It’s certainly not because I wanted more stuff, and I would have been completely content had another family member acquired them. But because no one in the family knew where they had gone, I was sad for my grandmother who had taken care of these things with diligent tender-loving-care, just so to leave them to her family to enjoy, as her mother and grandmother had done.

I had been told all of the stories. I knew the value of each piece (more sentimental than monetary) and after years of trying to find them, I had finally conceded they’d never be found again. Instead, I turned my attention to compiling her stories, keeping the promise I had made to her before she died, as I reported in my post, “Mission Accomplished ….”  Little did I know then the mission wasn’t over yet.

The evening I had completed the stories and gathered photos and information to include on CDs to send cousins, I took a break by doing a little Ebay gazing. I was in search of “spaghetti poodle” figurines to add to another that had once belonged to my aunt (daughter of said grandmother). Before my aunt passed, she had broken one of the pair and she mentioned sadly that she would have liked to acquire a few more and pass them down to any granddaughter who might appreciate their value. I recently became aware of two darling little girls who are her great-grandchildren and felt that’s where I would eventually send my aunt’s lone survivor at the right time, along with others I might collect – but first I had to find a few.

I typed “spaghetti poodle figurines” into the Ebay search box and started to sift through the list when I was surprised to see two cat figurines – very familiar cuddling cats that made my heart leap. I had purchased a pair exactly like them when I was 8-years-old for a Christmas gift to my grandmother. It actually was my first work experience. After seeing them for sale at the corner drug store, I begged my father to buy them so I could give them to her, and he in turn gave me the option to work for them at $.10 a chore. When I reached the $3.00 mark he then advanced the remaining $4.00 to be sure that they weren’t sold before I could earn enough (and yes, I indeed worked it off.)

My grandmother proudly displayed them on a shelf in every home she lived in, and though she moved around quite a bit, the only damage I saw on them the last year she was alive, was a little chip on one paw and the tip of the tail of one figurine and they both had lost a few of their plastic whiskers. During that last visit I also noticed a little dirt on the chest of the other figurine, and when I began to reach up for it with the intention of washing it for Grandma, she called from the other room, requesting a glass of water. They were then forgotten until after she died, and I began inquiring with family members of their whereabouts. Eventually, I realized all of her cherished heirlooms had mysteriously vanished from  family possession.

I wouldn’t allow myself to fancy the idea that these cats were one and the same, but I bought them at $24.95, believing they would bring some solace for the loss of all else, and mostly because no matter their origin, they reminded me of Grandma. When they arrived a week before Christmas, I carefully unwrapped each one and then became giddy as I saw the chips on the tail and paw on one and the dirt spots on the chest of the other. At that moment, I believed it was truly a God-send for having kept my promise of writing her stories, and all I could think of saying with tremendous glee was “Merry Christmas to me! Thank you, Grandma!”

I set them in a place where I can see them as I write and then turned my focus back to finish making and sending the CDs of her stories to my cousins. After the last CD was mailed, I again returned to Ebay on a search for those poodles. But first, there was “feedback” to do for the seller of the cat figurines, and curiosity led me to peak at the seller’s store.  A familiar cup was first on the list – one just like the cup Grandma served me coffee in while she told me one of her most important stories.  And then the matching saucer.  And the dinner plates.  And my grandfather’s wedding cufflinks and tie clip set, the coin bank he had as a child, the gifts sons brought home from WWII and on and on and … oh my, it was all there – everything I had given up hope of ever seeing again in this world!

I contacted a cousin who agreed we had to get these treasures back into the family. I started hitting the buy button and bidding on most important items and those I suspected might be wanted by various cousins. The hardest part was waiting for the items on auction to end at 1 a.m.  While trying to win the apothecary bowl that Grandma used for crushing herbs and nuts, I became a determined, crazed mad-woman – a side of me I’d never met before. I snarled threatening expletives at every counter bid (followed by “sorry, Gram”) until it became mine after nine bids. The last minute of the listing became the longest 60 seconds of my life until I read “Congratulations! You have won this item!”  I screamed.  Then, I cried.  Then, I laughed.  Then, I screamed, cried and laughed until my hubby woke up and asked if I’d lost my mind. “Go back to bed honey, it’s only a dream,” I told him quietly, not wanting to shock him with the approximate $2200 total of the scored treasures. Fortunately, he shuffled back to bed and wasn’t aware of the cost until after the sweet seller dropped about $600 worth of shipping from the invoice.

Am I crazy?   Perhaps.  But my heart is full.  And I know my grandmother is dancing in the clouds right now.  I owe that lovely lady very much.  Had it not been for her, I would have never learned as much of what I know about surviving the struggles in life or the significance of family values, which I gained by listening to her insightful stories. As well, she taught me how to bake an apple pie, sew an apron, crochet a doily and hand embroider my first stitch.  Grandma encouraged me to keep drawing and writing, both of which I make a living at today, and she looked at my first digitized embroidery sample and proclaimed, “God has found a place for you in this world.”  Even now, Grandma has taught me to never give up hope.  As she used to say, “Whatever will be will be, and nothing can stop it if it’s meant to be.”  Once again, Gram, you were right!

I may not be done shopping or I’d mention the terrific Ebay seller who deserves a zillion-star rating for handling this overwhelming order with an understanding heart. But it’s best to remain quiet awhile – I’m just trying to bring these precious treasures home and I don’t want to bid against friends or family.  (Cousins may contact me about any item they’ve been looking for.)

Thanks for waiting on this post, folks.  Blog time had to be sacrificed for Ebay time.  Also, I am adjusting the blog schedule for the next post to be made in about two weeks when I hope to have even more smiles to share and possibly a couple of stitches!  🙂

Pardon me while I pause …

I’m posting late and unfortunately have to ask for an extension of your patience, folks! Life is not allowing time for a blog moment. Due to a fantastic family emergency (which I’ll reveal in the next post) I will not be able to post again for a week or so. Be assured I’ll be back as soon as I can! Till then, allow me to say, don’t ever give up on finding what you thought you lost. If you have enough patience, and it was meant to be, those lost things will find their way home! 🙂

This Thing Called “Black Friday”

Knowing how busy I’d be this week, I began writing a post for today about a month ago, and considering the topic involved the history of Black Friday shopping, it will soon be sliding into the Desktop trash can. There is just too much on the agenda and good intentions of tending to little extras like a blog post go to the wayside as soon as the holidays begin.  But that doesn’t mean I can’t share a few of my thoughts, so before I chuck all of my notes …

The phrase “Black Friday” was first coined in about 1966 when it was used in a newspaper article to refer to the opposite of businesses being “in the red”. Then, in 1975 after a recession that brought the price of coffee up to a cost affordable by only the richest (those who actually didn’t need the caffeine to get themselves to work each day) it made a comeback as a spur to increase shopping on the day after Thanksgiving – an opportune time as many folks have the day off and with kids out of school, the whole family can holiday shop together, and of course it created a needed bump in the economy. For me, like others who had jobs that required working that day, Black Friday shopping was never an option up until online shopping became a reality. Then, about 2005-2008, Cyber Monday was added to the event, along with pre-sales and previews as early as mid-October, and my email box began filling with all sorts of spam that I actually welcomed from my favorite online shopping sites. Having a business that must be maintained with working, updated technology, and facing the end of my tax year, it’s become the perfect time to buy.  I try to prepare all year, researching reviews and studying products that I suspect I’ll need, and then I sit back and wait for Black Friday offers to hit the inbox.

November for me is also a busy family time with anniversaries, birthdays and the like going on, so the sales are the perfect solution for my gift-giving. I managed to pick up a $169 TomTom XL 340-S GPS unit for an anniversary gift to my husband in an early sale for $89. It’s exactly what he wanted – one he had been drooling over and gushing about since he’d borrowed one from a friend, and gee, wouldn’t it be great if he had one for the jobs he was traveling to soon?  Yeah, I took the hint.  Had I waited to give it to him for his birthday at the end of the month, I’d have saved another $40, as TigerDirect.com has announced a refurbished model for $49 (I love refurbished/recertified electronics – always good as new and usually include a 3-12 month warranty) but I suspect refurbished models don’t include the lifetime upgrades anyhow (and besides, there was the drooling and sighs).

Black Friday Faces via HuffingtonPost.com

Yes, Black Friday has turned the entire month of November into an online shopper’s paradise – no crazy grandma’s fighting over the toy of the season, no camping out in the cold to be able to say, “I got mine” and no dodging the pushers, grabbers and screamers. According to a Wikipedia report, “Black Friday 2010, a Madison, Wisconsin woman was arrested outside of a Toys ‘R’ Us store after cutting in line, and threatening to shoot other shoppers who tried to object.” This brings to mind the sad 2008 tragedy of the Wal-Mart employee who was trampled to death by the crowd. I read the story that day on AOL‘s News Stream, wondering what the hell had gone wrong in the outside world – seems “stuff” has become much too important!  I had made the decision at that moment to never attempt offline shopping on Black Friday, and any regrets of never having the opportunity melted with intense cyber-appreciation.  God bless e-commerce!  It seems a much happier place.

To those who agree and would rather save a few bucks on gas, as well as their sanity, most big chain stores have now made their sales available online. Sure, there are some in-store specials that aren’t found on the net, but you’ll also find “online specials only” announced in that wonderful seasonal spam or on home pages of cyber malls like Amazon.com. To help, there are a few websites specializing in hunting down Black Friday deals, such as TheBlackFriday.comThe best part: you can do your hunting and buying nestled in your jammies, while chewing on a turkey sandwhich. 

But if you’re looking for a way to work off those extra Thanksgiving calories or you simply prefer to experience the battle over items that you’ll probably enjoy with less energy than you’ll use in gaining their possession, do be kind, and don’t forget to ask yourself, “Do I really need this?” – especially if you are staring into the snarling eyes of a determined grandmother who is clutching the other end of the Elmo box in your hand. If you wait until next month, you might find that same item on Ebay at half the price, and simultaneously, make an old lady smile.  Well, maybe; maybe not.  But, at least, you’ll both still be able to smile.

Hope you all have a wonderful Thanksgiving! 🙂

Winners! – Stitches Golden Needle Awards™

I am so excited that I can’t even think of the best way to begin this post, so, I’m just going to dive right in … CONGRATULATIONS! to this year’s winners of the Stitches Golden Needle Awards™ : Steve Freeman, Qdigitizing; Tanda Bundy, Bass Pro Shops; Affinity Express Team; Jane Swanzy, Swan Threads; Lee Caroselli, Balboa Threadworks; Marjorie Corrow, Life’s A Stitch Embroidery; U.S. Digitizing Team; Peggy Severt, Pegboard Crafts; Cathy Cattle, Sew B It Custom Embroidery (cover); and Barbara Stuemer, TexDesign!  Kudos to each one of you for some of the finest digitizing in the industry!

As one of the judges, I have to admit it was a difficult event this year to find something to write down as a “con” with so many beautiful, interesting and highly technical entries.  I found it near impossible to keep opinions silent about my share of the entries since I opened The Box last July.  (I said many “WOW!”s as I opened each entry!)  So, let me say now, the 2011 contest entries – including many that didn’t make the list of winners – proved to be some of the most astounding and simply awesome pieces that I’ve had the pleasure to critique.  Thanks to all who participated and made this contest so tough to judge!  See for yourself and check out the November issue of Stitches Magazine!

As well, congratulations to Stitches Magazine, honored as “Magazine of the Year” by the American Society of Business Publication Editors in the 33rd annual Azbee Awards of Excellence competition!  And congratulations to ASI publications, honored by ASBPE with eight national and 11 regional awards of excellence for writing, editing, research, design and photography.  Whew!  I must say that all this gives me great pride as both a writer and a digitizer to be a contributor to such a fine publication by a fantastic organization!  Read more …

Now on to other things … which there isn’t enough time for.  I am swamped!  As we near the holidays, custom digitizing orders fill every extra moment and I fade to the background of blogs and e-clouds, as well as anywhere outside my home office.  “Just My Two Stitches” is currently a difficult task to keep on the schedule so, I’ve decided it necessary to cut back to posting every other week, at least until the rush has passed. I’m hoping that you won’t notice because you’re staying just as busy!  See you back here in a couple of weeks! 🙂