Hello! It’s spring again. The roadsides are abloom, the air is full of birdsong (and pollen), and the urge to chart tiny wildflowers is irresistible. Luckily, my own front yard–untamed and as yet unmowed this year–can provide plenty of source material.

The neighbors and the HOA are not amused.

I’ve been dreaming of vetches all winter. These lovely little annuals with their grabby tendrils mostly come in shades of purple from red-violet to violet blue. The flowers are papilionaceous, a fancy way of saying that they have the typical pea-family shape, with one large banner petal, two smaller wing petals, and a further two petals fused into a keel. Often, the petals are different shades, and fading flowers may be different as well.

Photo Larry Allain

Vetches have pinnately compound leaves, and each leaf axis ends in a forked or branched tendril. Underneath each leaf is a large, leaf-like stipule.

Photo by Larry Allain

We have four species common locally, two native and two introduced. (A fifth species, with pale yellow flowers, pops up from time to time locally as a weedy waif.) I drew Vicia ludoviciana, Deer Pea Vetch, one of the natives. It has multiple, medium-sized, light blue-violet flowers, which distinguishes it from V. minutiflora, which has single tiny flowers of the same color; V. sativa, which has big single or paired red-violet flowers; or V. villosa, which has big clusters of large, red-purple flowers that can rival bluebonnets for showiness on the roadside.

My drawing includes barely open flowers, fully-open flowers, faded flowers, flowers that are starting to show the developing legumes, and the legumes–which look just like miniature snow peas!– in various stages. The leaflets on V. ludoviciana can be narrow or rather rounded, blunt or a little pointy.

Translating the sketch to squares took forever. There are a lot of leaflets, and tendrils are fiddly!

Charting this up took several hours. I probably used more colors than Gerda would have, choosing five shades for the leaves (the lowest leaf, not shown below, is yellowish and fading), three for fresh flowers, two each for faded flowers and fruit, and one each for stipules, calyces, and stems. All of the colors were already in my palette–this is the first design for which I have not had to introduce a new DMC color to the project. If I were being absolutely faithful to nature, the calyces would be suffused with purple, but DMC doesn’t make anything that matches. Do you hear me, DMC? We need a paler red-violet with green undertones.

You can see that I added one more flower to the top right cluster. It looked funny without it.

This is not going to be a barrel of laughs to stitch.

There will be a LOT of stops and starts. For the most part, though, the leaf axes and tendrils are stitched with the same color as the leaflets, so if I end up stitching on a fabric count that lets me use the same number of strands for backstitch as cross stitch, I can do both at once.

Here’s how the top of it might look.

I can’t get the program to render the light green of the fruit accurately. It wanted to make it screaming neon and I’ve toned it down twice. It will look better than this.

Here’s the whole of it.

If and when I work all my flowers into one large design, I will rechart parts of this. If there is anything to clamber over, a vetch will clamber, so you can be sure that some of those freely-waving tendrils will be glommed onto all of the neighboring plants.

I’m not sure how Gerda-ish this one looks, but I’m happy with it. I hope that I have my charting mojo back and that it won’t be a further eight months between designs!

Cross-cultural Cross-Stitching

Gerda Bengtsson’s books were originally published in Danish, but her work has been legally translated, repackaged, and valued all over the world.

Here’s an Etsy listing for a digital version of a Japanese-language book of her patterns. Without checking the designs one by one, I don’t know if this is a direct translation of one of her books, or a compilation of designs from various works.

22 Floral cross stitchcross stitch bookdigital cross stitch image 0

What I do know is that it is usually illegal to sell unauthorized digital versions of books that are still under copyright. You can see on the page customers’ comments about other Gerda Bengtsson digital books sold by this vendor. There are many, many Japanese needlework books offered for sale as cheap digital versions on Etsy. Unfortunately, Etsy will only take down such pirate listings if the owner of the copyright does the complaining.

One living needle artist who is no doubt losing a lot of income due to piracy like this is Kazuko Aoki who, in my opinion, is probably the best living designer working in Gerda Bengtsson’s style. She deserves a post of her own, which you can look forward to at a future date.

All roads lead to Gerda! But they should do so legally.

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.