Posts filed in: January 2012

Goodbye, January.

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Having a friend over for dinner tonight myself. I always set the table and make my dessert first thing in the morning, or the night before. Those are my favorite parts so I like to take my time with them. My pretty new dishes are a birthday present from Andy's parents. I just love them. They're called "Pie Crust" from Anthropologie. I have to find a place where I can get these chair seats reupholstered. They're too squishy. I don't want to spend a lot of money on them because are in pretty rough shape, from an antique mall. But they are charming. I think they were recovered very quickly, just to sell. Upholstery is something I have absolutely no talent for or interest in. It's like doing alterations. (You know how whenever anyone finds out that you know how to sew, they start listing all of the pairs of pants they would like you to alter for them? Since you love to sew?) The thought makes me twitch.

Spring fever has hit me. Once January is over, I figure Mr. Snow has had his chance and I get pouty. I ain't got no more use for that guy. Spring comes early in the Northwest. Our plum trees will bloom in February. I've redone my mantle with a fern and weensy daffodils, bought some shamrock-looking things (sorrel?) for the dining room, sat at Powell's for several hours drinking chai and looking at pretty pictures in gardening books, started receiving my seed catalogs, and put a bunch of herbs on my windowsill. Weird how the fever hits. It's like you really just can't help it. It's still too early, but I can't help it.

Pasta Man

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Andy made fresh pasta and tossed it with some sauteed arugula, a bit of cream, and a dusting of Parmesan for Sunday dinner. So excellent. We only get to eat dinner together about half the week. We've been trying to make new things these past few months, branch out a bit. There is something so awesome about having someone make dinner for you. Boy have I ever been spoiled lately. Ridiculously.

In the Woods

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A night, a morning, a day, a night, and a morning at a little cabin in the woods.

Winter Spring

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Thank you for all the nice house tour comments! You guys are all so sweet. So sweet. Thank you. I guess our house has changed quite a bit since we started redoing things last year. Redoing the windows and then the bathrooms was a pretty major event for us. We were not redoing-type people but now maybe we are a little bit. Not much, but a little bit, I guess. Good changes. It kind of made me want to do a before-and-after photo kind of thing. I have a photo album of the very first pictures we ever took of our house twelve years ago when we bought it. It was early spring — March and April — when we moved in. We were so happy. The first day we got there there was no furniture yet or anything. There was a fireplace and an area rug. Neither of us had ever had a fireplace before. I remember Andy built a little fire and I took a nap on the floor in front of the fireplace. When it was time to go back to our apartment for the night, we didn't know what to do with the fire, which was still going, so Andy picked up the burning log and ran with it through the living room and out the front door and then threw it into the front yard. Then hosed it down. I was still lying on the floor the whole time laughing so hard, thinking, I don't know what you're supposed to do with it but I'm pretty sure that's not it. Oh man. Still cracks me up so bad.

A Little House Tour

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12_upstairs_hallPhoto by Julie Smith

My sweet sissy did a little house tour and interview with Andy and me the other day for a home design web site she is working with called Houzz. I loved the questions (and I love Andy's answers) and I love the the pictures she took. She tape recorded the interview we did and said our voices (hers and mine) sounded so similar that it was like listening to one person talking and laughing — and not either of us, but our other sister, Susie. Hah! I busted out laughing when she said that. Awesome. Anyway, always so much fun working on stuff together. Click on the link in her post to get to the tour. Thank you, Julie! xoxoxoxoxo

Counted Cross Stitch, Part 1

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Cross stitch is easy. It's just two little stitches crossed over each other. See that?


Counted cross stitch is not worked onto fabric that has been pre-printed. Counted cross stitch uses special fabrics that are called evenweave fabrics. These fabrics are woven so that they have the same number of warp threads (or, the threads running lengthwise through the fabric) and the same number of weft threads (or, the threads running crosswise, from selvedge to selvedge). In counted cross stitch (and from here on out, I'll just call it cross stitch) you work each stitch over the grid of perfect squares made by the warp and weft threads of your fabric.

Cross stitch can be done on different kinds of evenweave fabric, including evenweave linen, some woven ginghams, Aida cloth (which has a very ponounced grid that helps you see the holes into which your stitches go), waste canvas (which is a removable grid you temporarily apply to a piece of non-evenweave fabric that helps you place your stitches), and various other types of fabrics made especially for cross stitching. The fiber content and type of weave of the fabric you choose to use is largely a matter of personal preference.

What really matters is the "count" of the fabric. Thread count refers to the number of warp and weft threads per inch in the woven fabric. Stitch count refers to the number of cross stitches per inch you will have in your finished design. Aida cloth, for instance, is labeled according to stitch count; 10-count Aida cloth gives you 10 stitches per inch. Evenweave linen, however, is labeled according to thread count; 32-[thread]-count evenweave linen will give you a stitch count of 16, since cross stitch on this kind of linen is worked over 2 warp threads horizontally, and 2 weft threads vertically.

Count is very important when choosing fabrics for cross stitching because the number of stitches per inch can drastically change the look of a design. In general, fabric with a lower stitch count will produce a coarser looking design, where the crosses will be larger and more pronounced. Fabric with a higher stitch count will produce designs that are smaller and finer. For the Winterwoods sampler, I will be using 28-count Cashel linen, which gives me 14 stitches per inch. Typically, 2 strands of embroidery floss are used on 28-count linen. This is my favorite size of cross stitching, because the crosses are large enough to still look like crosses, and small enough to give detail without making me go blind. For cross stitching on evenweave linen, I use a large-eyed, blunt-tipped tapestry needle. I like a size 24 needle.

To work designs in cross stitch you follow a chart. Each colored box on the chart represents one set of crossed stitches. Each set of crossed stitches is relative to the other stitches in the design, so you're only ever "counting" a few stitches away from the last stitch you just made. Each color on the chart represents a specific color of six-strand embroidery floss. A color key helps you define each color of floss. If the chart is too small for you to see comfortably, just enlarge it on a color copier. A good full-spectrum lamp is a must in dim light. I use an Ott light.


Every design should tell you the dimensions of the design area, or the outermost edges of the stitching. In the Winterwoods design, the design area is 111 stitches across by 140 stitches down, or approximately 8" x 10". The fabric you use for any sampler should always be at least 3" longer on all sides beyond the design area. This margin helps hold the fabric in the hoop when you are stitching motifs close to the edge of the design area, and also allows you to stretch the piece properly when it comes time to frame.

Facing a blank piece of fabric and unsure where to start stitching your sampler? One way of starting is to find the center of the charted design (just fold the chart in half lengthwise and widthwise to find the center at the intersection of the folds) and begin stitching from that center point in the center of the fabric (to find the center of the fabric you can fold that the same way you folded the paper). But if you're like me, since you know your design-area dimensions, you can just measure the general placement of the design area in the center of your fabric piece, then just start stitching from the uppermost left corner of the design. Either way works.


Once you've found a place to start, place your fabric in the embroidery hoop: Lay the fabric over the small hoop, then place the larger hoop over it (making sure to open the screw enough so that it fits easily over the fabric), then tighten the screw so that the fabric is fairly taut. I've wrapped the bottom hoop with twill tape, which helps prevent the hoop from leaving a mark on the fabric. I almost always use 4" hoops. They fit in my hand well, and that makes me happy and comfortable. I move the hoop around as I stitch. I don't worry that this will distort any previously worked stitches, because it never has. Just don't tighten the screw too tight. Common sense. Some people don't use hoops but I always do.

To start stitching, you can either tie a knot in the end of your floss so it won't pull out the front, or leave a few inches of tail hanging out the back side, then weave that end in later by threading it back onto your needle and running the tail end under a few finished stitch (after you've worked several stitches in the fabric). Pro stitchers will tell you that you should never knot your thread to start, but I don't know; for beginners I think that whatever is easiest and familiar is best, just to get you going. There are other ways of working in your ends than leaving a tail on the back and weaving it in later (I sort of hold it out of the way so I don't get it tangled in the stitching); I've tried several different ones but this is the one that I like these days. This always works nicely for me. Some people stitch over the tail as they work, but somehow it always winds up in a tangled mess for me. But if you can do it it will save you a step. (A knotless loop start works well with non-variegated floss, but with variegated I don't use it, since folding a length of thread in half will mix up the variegated color shades and they won't pool properly [see below].)

Now, go. Count stitches on the chart and work them, one by one, on the fabric. Keep the legs of all of your stitches going in the same direction — if the ones on the bottom are going from lower left to upper right, they should always go from lower left to upper right, and the ones on the top should go the opposite (from upper left to lower right). Because the Winterwoods sampler uses hand-dyed, variegated floss that contains several different colors or shades of color in the same length of thread, I recommend completing each stitch before moving on to the next.


I always do cross stitch this way, anyway, though some people, when they're doing a large area in one color do all of the bottom legs first, then work all of the top legs on their way back to the starting point. I don't like the way the thread pulls on the fabric when stitches are done like this. And with variegated floss especially, working one stitch at a time helps "pool" the shades of color and gives a better effect, I think. So don't do it like this:


Unless you want to. Like I said, no one is watching. Keep working stitches in the same color until you've finished all of the stitches of that color in that motif. To end a thread, turn your work over and run the floss under a few stitches on the back, then snip it off. Don't carry threads from one motif or letter to another because they will kind of show through from the front. Finish off each color and each motif.


To start a new motif, you will count the "empty stitches" between the motif you just worked and the starting stitch of the next. I always start the next motif with whatever stitch is closest to the one I just worked — that way I have the least number of empty stitches to count. I walk my needle across each empty stitch space (remember, that's 2 threads), counting in my head. When I get to the starting point of the next stitch in the next motif, I take my needle and gently work the threads away from each other, making the "hole" large enough for me to keep my eye on as I bring the needle around to the back, and come up to the front.




And then I make that first leg of my first stitch on the next motif. And on and on and on through the alphabet!

I am always amazed at how many beginners truly worry about what the back of their stitching looks like. As you improve, you'll find lots of ways to perfect your technique, so if you're just starting out, please don't worry about stuff like this too much. For one thing, once it's in a frame, you will never see the back of it. For another, you are the only person who is going to care what the back looks like. If you don't care, I really don't care. (Even if you do care, I probably still won't care, 'cause I'm like that.) And I can tell you that Andy Paulson did not care for even one little second about what the back of his stitching looked like. And I don't think he has any regrets about that. So, there you go. The back improves as you improve. For what it's worth, here is mine:


Using variegated floss is pretty cool, because it allows you to have several different colors or shades of the same color in one motif, all without changing your floss. You just stitch, and color variations appear. It's a lot more expensive, but very worth it in terms of giving texture, depth, and ease of stitching to a piece. I love it. To keep my floss organized, I buy plastic boxes and bobbins designed specifically for storing floss. I unwind any skeins onto the bobbin (or onto the cardstock label), and label the number and manufacturer on the bobbin with a waterproof pen. After separating strands for use, I rewrap unused strands back onto the bobbin.


When I'm working a project with lots of different colors, I thread several needles with floss so that they are always ready to pick up and use. I stick them into the side of the sofa and then frequently forget about them, but don't do that. You should stick them into a pincushion. But remember to unthread every single needle in the house when you aren't using them, or put them into a sealed container, like a floss box. Kitties love to suck up thread, and I was at the vet once when a lady had to bring her cat in because he had swallowed a threaded needle. Not good at all. Remember to always unthread everything and put your stuff away if you have kitterses.

Also, I will again be offering my favorite embroidery hoops, scissors, twill tape, and these tapestry needles in my web shop when the kits and pattern become available (sometime this spring). You can purchase these supplies a la cart, and I'll ship them all together with the kit.

The company that makes the flosses I like says its hand-dyed flosses are colorfast (or will be soon), but I don't wash this sampler when I'm done, I have to admit. I don't want to take the chance. I press it face down into a terry cloth towel with a dry iron, spritzing a bit of water on the back with a spray bottle. I frame all of my flat pieces myself, with the help of a local do-it-yourself frame shop. To see how I do it, you can check out this tutorial I wrote.

These are all just my ways and opinions and by no means a totally comprehensive tutorial, of course. You will find the ways that work best for you as you practice. I'm exhausted now (muscles have atrophied from lazy winter break), so if you have any more questions just let me know and we can talk again later. If you are a cross-stitch enthusiast, please feel free to add your tips and suggestions (or corrections!) to the comments. There are lots of good resources out there, including the best embroidery book ever written in the entire universe. I'll show you some pictures from that and I can tell you about my other favorite books and shops and sources, too, but right now I have to go . . . do something else.


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The weekends always go too fast. I love the feeling of . . . lowered expectations. Something like that. It's early Monday morning here now. Crows calling outside. The heat blowing through the register. The sky turning bright gray. My neighbor's screen door slamming as the kids leave the house, one by one (there are six) on their ways to school. Cars starting up. I have a busy week, too. An inch of rain promised for tomorrow, so I'd better get at it today. What I really want to do is sit around dreaming about the veggie garden we're going to start on the parkway. Maybe I'll do a little of that. I need a stack of seed catalogs. Must get one of those!

I figured out the shirring on my machine — thank you for the advice. Turned out that I just needed to loosen the tension on the bobbin case (and I didn't even know bobbin cases had tension). Then it worked perfectly. I used this pattern to start, but modified it heavily — adding 3" to the neck/upper sleeve edges, lengthening the sleeves another 6", lengthening the whole thing and turning it into a dress, adding shirring at the waist. It was fun. And it will be pretty in linen. (By the way, my apron from last week, which I totally adore, is from here.) I have several yards of nutmeg brown linen and another inky blue. My Tasha Tudor dress.

Cross-stitch tutorial tomorrow. Candlemaking? Here is some information for you. Bread talk is here. Any seed catalog recommendations? I am the world's most pathetic gardener so I'll need help.

On Saturday

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I sewed. He made beeswax candles and bread for me. I love him.

These are called waxflowers.

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Very dramatic weather in the Great Pacific Northwest these past couple of days! Raining cats and dogs here in town most of the day yesterday. Right now it's calm, but I don't think the drama is finished yet. Andy has the day off and is sitting under the Pendleton blanket I got him for Christmas, drinking coffee (I made cappuccinos yesterday with the frother/steamer that Jillian recommended and that little thing is so cool!) and reading "a book about mixing." Which has something to do with music. I've been making a peasant blouse, and am trying to figure out why the elastic thread I've been using to do the shirring on it keeps shredding, and the top thread keeps breaking. Must keep trying. It's my first time using that thread. I've been hoping every day this week that my new cross-stitch fabric samples would arrive, but no luck yet. I wasn't completely happy with the fabric I chose for the original one and am going to back to something I know and love called Cashel linen. Now I'm just waiting for Zweigart to send me several color samples to choose from and then we'll get this show on the road. I'd like to do the tutorial on the actual fabric I'll be using in the kits, but it won't make that much difference — the thread count is the same (and after I do the tutorial, you'll know what I mean by thread count, if you don't already!). So if I doesn't arrive today, instead of waiting longer I'll just work on the tutorial over the weekend with the original fabric and get that posted on Monday. The needlework industry is weirdly fascinating and weirdly frustrating. I'll tell you about it sometime. I love it, but it also drives me crazy. Maybe it's me.

White Night

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It snowed for a few minutes yesterday morning, but for the rest of the day it was cold and dry.





I kind of wanted to go somewhere, but they kept warning that worse weather was on its way. So I stayed in and drank pots of tea and hung out with the puppers and later sauteed some mushrooms and tossed them with noodles and cleaned up the kitchen and read in the bathtub. I put on the big fluffy white robe my mom gave me for Christmas, and we all (the girls and I) headed upstairs to knit. Andy got home a few hours later, and around 10:30 or so we noticed that the night had turned white:











It's all mostly gone this morning. Oh how I love that snowpink night sky. It always reminds me of one time when I was little and we had a perfect snow. In the middle of the night it was so light out you could see everything. We had a new puppy — it must have been Loki (chocolate Lab) — and we took him to the park next door to our house. The snow was so deep and light, and everything was so quiet; our neighborhood was asleep. It was just our family. We all stood in a big circle in the park and he ran from one to the other of us, big ears flapping, big paws thumping, sinking over and over again into the snow, so excited. Snowpink sky reminds me of that night, and my silky brown Loki. Sweetest dog.

About Alicia Paulson


My name is Alicia Paulson
and I love to make things. I live with my husband and daughter in Portland, Oregon, and design sewing, embroidery, knitting, and crochet patterns. See more about me at




Since August of 2011 I've been using a Canon EOS 60D with an EF 18-200mm kit lens and an EF 100mm f/2.8 Macro lens.