Summer's the season to spend on our knees, pruning and planting and picking to keep that garden in top shape.
You can enjoy the richness of a garden all year long by "sowing" with your needle. If you're a careful stitcher, you may never have to pull a single "weed."
It has long been a tradition for embroiderers to stitch their gardens. (I've found in my seminars and tours that many avid stitchers are also avid gardeners.) But perhaps no needlework gardens compare to those of the English ladies of the 17th and 18th centuries, who stitched their formal Elizabethan country gardens in that marvelous 3-D technique called stumpwork.
These incredibly intricate stumpwork gardens were peopled with gentlemen and ladies whose faces were raised and whose bodices were padded with wool or horsehair. Skirts, stitched in brilliant petit point, were embroidered separately and attached only at the waist; when raised, they disclosed a froth of lace petticoat or a pair of golden shoes. Butterflies flitting among the hyacinths and marigolds had two sets of wings -- one embroidered flat on the satin background and the other free-standing in lacy buttonhole stitches. Peapods were raised to show the tiny seed-peas within, caterpillars were worked in fluffy chenille threads, and cascading from the fountain was sparkling water, worked in shimmering sequins or real gold and silver bullion.
Another needlework idea borrowed from gardening was invented by none other than Mary, Queen of Scots, as an ingenious way to avoid the tedium of stitching the background of needlepoint canvas. Mary worked a little motif of floral bouquets in silk petit point and then, just as "cuttings" or "slips" of plants would be used to propagate new plants, she cut out her "slips" and appliqued them to velvet, plunging the threads of the canvas through the velvet and tying them on the reverse side.
There's a whole room in Glamis Castle (the queen's royal castle) in Scotland whose walls are covered with blue velvet on which is appliqued the most charming needlepoint "slip" animals and flowers. But they're so finely worked you've got to know where to look to discover those little caterpillars peering from behind the heavy furniture.
To make your garden really personal, you could take another tip from English history and stitch your real house and garden in the stylized manner of those marvelously primitive 18th-century samplers. Leaving a liberal border around your central scene, stitch your house in the background, surrounded by your trees and with a radiating sun overhead. Then place in the foreground a large and fanciful row of all your favorite blooms, including a caterpillar or two, a pond or river, and some chirping birds flying overhead. All in any size you please, delightfully oblivious of scale.
If fact, if you stay true to the charm of the old-style samples, you will totally ignore true scale and dimensions, so that your house might be the same size as a chrysanthemum, and a butterfly the same size as one of the trees. It's also a good idea to stick to simple silhouettes and let the interest be in the texture of all your glorious stitches -- turkey work for caterpillars, French knots for flowers, or even trellis stitch -- that wonderful 3-D stitch -- if you want to experiment with stumpwork.
After you've completed your central scene, work a double border of stem stitch around it and frame your scene with a border of birds, butterflies, rabbits, tulips -- all your favorite flora and fauna.
If you'd prefer to work in needlepoint, you can achieve the same effect if you work out a stylized and colorful patchwork interpretation of the different shapes and don't aim for photographic representation.
For apartment dwellers who don't happen to own a garden, why not work a sampler of your favorite indoor plants? Even if you're a city dweller, you could stitch up your apartment building overlooking your favorite park -- and get a bit of the country into your urban habitat.
Q: I have just been introduced to needlepoint, but really know very little about the proper materials to use. I've heard about Persian wool -- is this a brand name or a particular type of wool? Also, is it more expensive than other wools?
A: Persian wool is not a brand name. It is a more expensive wool that is more durable than other wools. It is therefore a good choice for a major project such as dining room chair seat covers, rugs, etc., which will get a lot of wear. When you spend a good deal of time and effort on a needlepoint project, you'll want to spend a little extra on the materials to make sure it will last for years. Persian wool is available in a wide variety of colors at most needlework stores.