Let’s Try Those Little Pony Feeties Again

It’s hard to draw flowers when your heart is full of stress and worry, but today was a little better than how the last crazy week has been, so I’ve given the Dichondra another go.

I looked back at my sketches, and actually had one with the leaves enlarged.  I charted them up and used them, plus the flowers from the smaller drawing.  This is the result:


It’s a little hard to envision that, just from a black and white grid that doesn’t screen-cap particularly well.  So here is how the flowers would look on that taupe.  (Not the color I’m going to use, but it makes a nice display on the computer.)


That’s not too bad.  The stem and that one tiny light leaf should stitch up more green and less yellow.   And you can’t really see it, but there are little purple anthers.

Hmm.  I think I need to go back and put in one more petal-color stitch at the bottom center of the fully open flower.  But I think I like it!

Wow.  That’s actually going to be a heck of a lot of stitching.  There are a lot of stitches in those leaves.

Here’s what it might look like over one:


That is just about right.  Compare:


And I think it looks Gerda-ish.  What do you think?


Not Neglecting, Just…Not Connecting

I’ve been working on other things, but I haven’t been entirely idle.  I’ve tried sketching a few more tiny things, but I’m just not feeling a “click.”

Remember our friend Scarlet Pimpernel?


I tried a sketch, and I don’t love it.  Even though the petals can be pointed, I think the shape is just wrong here.  I need rounded petals, and shorter flower stalks  Back, as they say, to the drawing board.

anagallis take one

I’ve had a little more luck with Ponysfoot, Dichondra carolinensis, which is in the morning glory family.  It’s mostly a weed here, though in other places it’s grown as a lawngrass substitute.  (It certainly would like to take over my lawn!)  The stems run along the ground and root at the nodes.  It has cute round leaves and teensy flowers that are whitish, pale green, or pale yellow.


Many people don’t know it has flowers at all, because you have to get down on their level to appreciate them.  Who wouldn’t like purple anthers?

I’m quite happy with the leaves and stem in the sketch below, but the flowers are… what?  Too large in proportion to the leaves, I think.


Time to blow up the leaves and shrink the flowers, hopefully meeting in the middle with something that says “chart me.”

They can’t all work on the first try!



Last, and Actually Least

The smallest of our local bluets is Houstonia micrantha, the Southern bluet. That specific epithet means “tiny flower,” and boy, do they live up to the name!  The white blossoms are only a few millimeters across.  Houstonia rosea (the pink one) is shorter, but has larger flowers.

ho_micr-claude bailey

Image by Claude Bailey, University of Tennessee, Knoxville

These flower at the same time as the other bluets and are frequently found in mixed populations.  Here are H. micrantha and H. pusilla growing together:

image of Houstonia micrantha, image of -

Photo by J. K. Marlow.

It’s not unusual to find white-flowered individuals of H. pusilla in a population, but the size of the corolla and the stature of the plantslet you know they’re not H. micrantha.

Here is a pretty dirty sketch.  I didn’t like that one side-view flower, so I redrew it above.


And the hand-drawn chart, with corrections and color notations.


Again, I’ve played with four different colorways for the foliage.  It doesn’t seem to matter to the eye.  They all say, “bluet.”  In the field, the vast majority of plants will have foliage that is simply chlorophyll-colored, and the brain sorts it out by texture.  (The best looking-out-the-car-window-at-60-mph plant identifier I ever knew was red-green colorblind.  He could tell EVERYTHING apart by texture alone, though Christmas decorations were sadly lost on him.)

Here’s the chart as output by the program.  It’s hard to see the stems.  A good printout (rather than a screen-cap) would have them as distinct black lines.


I can’t  show  you a color-block chart on white because–go figure–the white squares disappear into the background.  But here is how the bluets might look stitched on taupe:


Or, if stitched life-size:


I think, on a background sufficiently distinct from white, I won’t need to outline the flowers or delineate the border between the tube and the flared part of the corolla.  (Botany lesson: the term for flowers shaped like this is salverform, with the narrow part  of the blossom termed the tube, and the spread-out part is called the limb.

And see–they do play well with the blue ones!


I’m still not sure they look like something Gerda drew, but I’m pretty happy with them.  I’ll try to make sure the next plant I chart up is one Gerda also did, so that we can make a direct comparison.

Time for Some Lemony Sunshine

East Texas has another spring wildflower that’s as tiny as bluets.  Often they grow together, and I’ve seen at least one herbarium sheet that was a mixed collection (oops!)  Rather than purple, bluish, pink, or white, however, Golden Hedge-hyssop (Gratiola flava) has flowers that are a bright, clear lemon yellow.

Image result for gratiola flava



(Image from http://www.biosci.utexas.edu)





This little member of the Figwort family is tiny.  Written out, the common name is longer than the plants are tall!  Belly botany, for sure.   Texas’ other species of Gratiola are all much bigger.

Gratiola flava only grows in areas of loose sand and is endemic (found in a limited area) of East Texas and Louisiana.  I used to see them at Lick Creek Park all the time, when I was out there more often than I am now.  The paired leaves vary from oval to long-elliptic, and the tubular flowers are slightly curved. The petals are fused, with the corolla having four lobes—one of which is larger than the other three because it is actually two petals fused together.  The fruits are pointed-ovoid.

This is another plant I’ll have to draw twice or more life-sized to capture detail and then stitch over-one.

Here’s a pencil sketch.  Probably some of the leaves should be more oval and less linear, but I have flowers, a bud, and a couple of fruit.  (I know the leaves look like the ones I drew for the bluets, but both have sessile, paired, narrow, toothless leaves.  I promise not all of my plants will have such generic-skinny leaves!)


The pencil sketch, inked.  (I’m using a Sakura .01 Pigma pen, and my fancy paper here is a piece of scrap I pulled out of the recycle barrel at work.)


First approximation of a chart, with notations as to color.  I’ve started a color/symbol list for my charting program so that the same symbol will be the same color in any of my charts.  Fewer headaches that way!  I won’t have to rechart if I combine designs.


Again, the charting program doesn’t handle colors perfectly, particularly the yellowy greens.  I did the foliage in three different colorways.  I may adjust the colors of the flowers when I stitch, because there needs to be enough difference so that you can see the tube, the spread corolla, and the deeper-toned middle (deeper only because of shadow–the flowers really are just solid lemon–DMC 307).  The colors of floss I specified aren’t very different in the program.  I think they’ll be more distinct in actual floss.


And here is what the little plants would look like stitched on taupe.


Golden Hedge-hyssop isn’t familiar to many people, but I like to think that anyone who knows it would recognize it here.  Especially if it were stitched up life size:


Stitching will have to wait, because I want to do a group of different teeny-tinies all together and, depending on how I arrange them, I will probably need to shift the foliage colors around for balance.  Can’t have all the DMC 3346 ending up on one side of the work, now can we?

They Also Come in Pink

Don’t let the name fool you—not all bluets are blue.  Houstonia rosea comes in shades of pink, from rose to pale purply-pink.


The plants are even smaller than Houstonia pusilla, the bluets I charted first, but their flowers are proportionately bigger.  Their middles are yellow or greeny-yellow, rather than green.  (It’s H. caerulea, a bluet we don’t have, that has the sunny yellow middles.) Often, the flower shades to white or very pale pink between the outside of the corolla and the middle.

So at lunch today, I drew a few.

pink bluet sketch

Traced on graph paper, with colors noted:

pink bluet handchart

A color chart looks like this:

pinkbluets color chart-small

And if i stitched them more-or-less life-size on taupe:

pink bluets taupe-small

Squee! They are so cute.*  I may tinker with them a bit.  The fruit on the third one is clunky.  But mostly, I’m happy with them.  They are going to play nicely with the blue ones, too.


*I have several times had the pleasure of going out in the field with the great Texas botanist, Marshall Johnston.  (He and Donovan Stewart Correll wrote the book on Texas plants—literally!  Their Manual of the Vascular Plants of Texas continues to be useful, even though it has been out of print for forty-ish years.)  He knows all the plants, in all stages of growth.  Whenever I would exclaim about some tiny plant and call it cute, he would correct me.  “Plants are not ‘cute.’   They may be interesting or beautiful, but they are not  ‘cute.'”

Sorry, Marshall.  These little guys are cute.

Why Cross Stitch?

As has been pointed out, if I were doing these wildflower embroideries in surface stitches rather than cross-stitch, I wouldn’t have to mess with graph paper and making smooth curves with little squares.  I could capture every little leaf-tooth and petal-freckle.  In truth, the results of the most sophisticated and life-like technique, thread painting, can be stunning.

So why cross-stitch?  I’ve actually been giving this a lot of thought.  There are several reasons.

1. That’s what Gerda did.  It wouldn’t exactly be homage to Gerda if I wandered off into other techniques for my primary method.  Gerda’s designs have been used for things other than cross-stitch (a topic for another post!), but cross-stitch was her métier.

2.  Cross-stitch is easy to learn, and beginners can produce beautiful results.  If a child is old enough to be trusted with a needle and scissors, they can be taught to do cross-stitch in under an hour.  Their work won’t be perfect, but it doesn’t take long to become proficient enough to produce things that look pretty darned good.  Surface embroidery stitches vary in complexity, but it can take years to become really skilled at thread-painting or shaded silk embroidery.

3.  More people will attempt cross-stitch.  One of the things I’d be thrilled to see happen as a result of this project is for more people to appreciate what Gerda did, as well as the beautiful plants that grow in Texas.  Cross-stitch is going to reach a larger audience.

4.  Cross-stitch is fast and portable.  With practice, cross-stitch works up very quickly and isn’t fiddly.   It can be worked in a hoop or in-hand, so chart, hoop, scissors, floss, and needle can go in any handy bag and travel wherever the stitcher does.  Lectures, meetings, lunch hours, ball games–you name it.   I don’t get travel-sick (New York city cab rides are the exception), so I can stitch in cars and on planes and buses.

5.  Cross-stitch supplies are easier and less expensive to come by.   You can do cross-stitch on expensive linen with silk and real gold thread, but you can also do it on cheap cotton Aida cloth with dime-store cotton floss.  Thread-painting can be done with cotton floss, but it sure looks better in silk or wool.

6.  Cross-stitch is infinitely scalable.  A design that uses only whole stitches and a minimum of back-stitch can be worked on fine gauze or on relatively gigantic, 6- or 8-count afghan fabric or anything in between.   All that changes is the type of thread and the number of plies used in the needle, not the number of stitches or the technique to make them.

Here is a gooseberry design of Gerda’s I stitched up years ago.


It’s on the padded cover of a wooden box that I stained green to match.


The box is a little over 2″ in diameter.

gooseberry full

I could have done it on 14-ct fabric using three strands of floss, and it would have made a beautiful pillow top.

Scaling up a surface embroidery design can be done, but increases the time and skill necessary to cover a larger area smoothly, especially since the stitches themselves don’t scale up nicely beyond a certain size.  More area = more stitches= more time + more money.  A large design in wool or silk is going to be pricey.

7.  Cross-stitch is worked from a graph or grid.  A charted with all whole stitches and no back-stitch design like this is going to translate well to to other counted-thread or charted techniques such as needlepoint, filet crochet, duplicate-stitch on knitted goods, net darning, and so on.  Graphs are great for mosaics and woven beadwork, especially since some types of beads (notably Delicas) are square in side view and come in a huge array of colors.  There is even a conversion chart from DMC floss to Delicas!

8.  Cross-stitch is good for things other than fabric.  Anything that looks like a grid or mesh can be stitched on!  People have done screen doors, colanders and strainers, smallish pegboards, big pegboards,  woven chair seats, chair backs, and so on.  People have even been known to replicate cross stitch in paint on walls:

9.  And, after honoring Gerda, this is probably the most important:  It’s a blast!  It involves flowers, design, graph paper, and cool software, thread and fabric–what’s not to love?  The challenge of capturing/charting flowers on a 2-dimensional grid is mental exercise.  It’s like writing a sonnet–you can do whatever you like within the strictures of the art form.  The fun/talent/skill/challenge is in working within those boundaries.   Seeing them come to life in stitched form is the icing on the cake.

awesome cross stitch cake by ana salinas

(cake made by Ana Salinas.)

So there you have it.  My reasons for doing what I’m doing.  Your mileage may vary, not affiliated, no paid endorsements, yadda yadda.

In a future post, I’ll look at some of Gerda’s designs that were interpreted in ways other than cross stitch.


That’s the sound of bluets popping up all over.  There are five, and I think I’m done for now.

This is what a color chart looks like.  I don’t generally work from color charts—I’ve just shrunk this down and screen-capped this since, if you squint, it looks like they’re stitched on white.

bluets color chart

It’s more or less how big they’d be stitched over one on about 30-count.  Slightly bigger than life size.  Over two, they’d be twice as big–truly gargantuan, but recognizable as bluets nonetheless, I hope!

This is how they’d look stitched over-one on a very fine taupe fabric.


Oh, those colors are going to be so much prettier in actual thread!

And if you were masochistic enough to stitch them on 40-count silk gauze, they might look something like this.  On my laptop, that’s a bit smaller than life size.  They’re bitty!

tiny bluets

So after less than a week’s work I have a chart that makes five little bluets.  I can mix, match, re-arrange, flip left to right, repeat for a border, etc.  It’s a very versatile pattern.  I might have to dig out the waste canvas and put some on a sweatshirt.  Or a bookmark.

So that’s bluets and draba.  I’ve got one design that would be more or less life size stitched over one on 32 ct and one that will be about right stitched over two.  I probably won’t put the two in the same finished piece, but now I have some good proof-of-concept samples, and I am MUCH more acquainted with my software and its eccentricities.  I just need to figure out how to make it quit putting stray stitches far outside the boundaries of the actual design so that it wants to print a chart with umpteen pages, all but two of which are essentially blank graph paper, I will be even happier!  (Actually, I just figured out how to to select and clear all of the area of the workspace that is not actual chart, so I’m good.)

Looking at things, I’m not sure either of these designs says “Gerda,” but they do say, “Monique!”  It tickles me that, after processing my sketches through graph paper and a charting program, how the charts look so much like my hand drawings!  Style is not lost in the process!

What’s next?  I think I need to find the good paper and the perfect pen, sit down, and make pretty little lists of what plants I want to do, and which ones might be in the same finished piece.  Just looking at the names is soothing.

shepherd’s purse    golden hedge-hyssop   pointed phlox    toadflax    sweet clover  spiderwort    day flower   blue-eyed grass   buttercup.

This is a lot of work, but it’s also fun and exciting.  There’s a real thrill to watching an idea take form, and it will be even more fun to see a finished stitchery.  Guess I’d better go  leave out a saucer of bread and milk for the brownies.   They are coming to stitch up all my designs for me, right?