It’s All About the Color

I didn’t know, when I started charting my next plant, that I was going to fall down a rabbit hole of new DMC colors, software testing, and buying and learning an entirely new charting software package.

But, you see, the Henbit has to be just the right color.

This whole blog, this whole enterprise, is as much about color as it is about Gerda or craftsmanship or the flora of Texas. I’m a stitcher and a botanist largely because I love color. When I count my blessings, color vision is always somewhere near the top of the list, and when the first spring flowers open their buds, the patches of white and yellow and purple make my heart sing.

Henbit or Dead Nettle, naturalized from Europe, is one of the earliest plants to bloom here. It’s not uncommon to see the first tentative blossoms in late December, and by March, it’s pretty much finished for the year.

“Henbit” refers to the fact that chickens like it, and the other common name alludes to the superficial resemblance of the foliage to that of stinging nettles. This plant is harmless, hence “dead.”

It has features that mark it unmistakably as a member of the Lamiaceae or mint family: square stems, opposite leaves, minty scent, bilaterally symmetrical flowers that are two-lipped, a gynobasic style, and a fruiting structure that is a cluster of four little nutlets.

The flowers are like a piece of FabergĂ© art—the closer you look, the more detail there is, and the more amazing the craftsmanship.

They always remind me of little purple sock puppets, and there’s a lot going on here. Each blossom has a tube and a throat and a hood and a spotted lip, and these parts can all be different shades. Some flowers are a little pinker, some a bit darker, and sometimes you can find a patch with corollas that are nearly white. And they’re furry! All in something a smidge over a centimeter long.

Eight inches or so is about average size for this plant. Since I’m drawing at twice life-size, this gave me quite a large design, and I was able to put in a lot of detail—the lower leaves with stalks, the joined pairs of upper leaves with their whorls of sessile (stalkless) flowers and the unique shape of the flowers themselves. There was room to draw in the empty calyces from earlier flowers. (My theory is that the reason the first couple of whorls of flowers don’t usually set any fruit is that they bloom before the pollinators are out and about.) I ended up with a big, relatively complex sketch.

I didn’t love it. It was the right size, but it felt too big, and I realized just how much plain green there was going to be–a gazillion tiny stitches. I tried scanning and reducing it by 1/4, but that made the parts too small. Finally I just decided to take out one whorl of leaves and make the plant shorter, which produced the desired result.

For the first time, I used colored pencils to note where the different colors needed to go. They’re not the right colors, just placeholders, but coloring drove home the fact that I was going to need two colors for the leaves, another for the stems, two more to make the calyces not all run together, and maybe another few for leaf veins and the underside of the joined leaves on the right hand stem.

Then there were the flowers. “Lamium amplexicaule has purple flowers” seems like a straightforward concept. I can imagine that Gerda would have used a shade or two of purple and produced a perfectly recognizable and satisfactory design. The closer I looked however, the more different shades I saw, and the more I wanted to try to capture this. DMC doesn’t have a single color that says “Lamium“, but I hoped to be able to get close. I chose as best I could and started charting.

It soon became obvious that I was never going to like the fact that my charting software didn’t include the newest forty-odd shades of DMC, several of which I needed to use. My previous post details my software journey to where I am now, with WinStitch. Here is Lamium in progress, as rendered thereby.

At this stage, I had charted in the full stitches for the veins in the leaves, taken them out, and replaced them with backstitch. I didn’t like the way that that looked either and decided to trust my original judgment. Gerda didn’t call for a lot of backstitching either, so it felt right. Here’s the finished chart (sans graph lines):

I’d say that looks like a Lamium, wouldn’t you? It’s still not quite right though, because the colors are still off. Nothing should be grayish. The greens should be more lush, and the purples should be pinkish violets and glowing. Is it really going to look this dull?

I decided to do a reality check and pulled my intended colors for a floss toss. A floss toss is when you grab all the threads and put them on the fabric and see whether they sing in harmony or if there are false notes.

Nailed it. I adjusted where I’d planned to use several shades and I can’t wait to stitch this one. Is this fussier than my other designs? Yes, but it’s a fussy-shaped plant. Should I reduce the number of colors? Possibly. This is a lot for a small, over-one design. But I like it the way it is. I hope it won’t stick out too much among its simpler brethren.

Hmm. What to tackle next?