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Cool!

Josh posted this shot on his Facebook page with the caption “Gram’s Graduation Present :)”

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It’s not all kayaking; I’ve been stitching, too. I couldn’t blog about it because it’s a gift. Grandson Josh is graduating high school this spring. He has everything on earth he could want or need. He definitely doesn’t need money. Casting about for what I could give him, I thought about embroidering an article of clothing for him. He likes my needleart a lot. When I asked him, he said that he loved the idea and he would be thinking about what he would want me to embellish with stitching.

On April 2nd  he showed me two jackets and told me I could choose which I wanted to work on.

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I chose the military-style tunic. It is dark brown, sort of grayish-brown. When I asked Josh whether he had any ideas, requests, preferences, or specifications, he said he wanted me to do whatever I wanted with it, as that is the way he does his best work. He did mention, however, that maroon is the color of College of Charleston, where he will matriculate this year. To my question about wearability, he said it had to be dry-cleanable, as he likes to wear it regularly.

As soon as I had decided on the tunic, I got out all my darkest red threads and draped them over the jacket. DMC cotton pearl 902 looked wonderful against the dark brown—subtle and rich. Putting stitching on the button tabs and epaulettes seemed obvious. But to do that, I’d have to be able to remove the tabs from the tunic. Immediately I set to work to see whether I could do that. It was scary. What if I damaged the tunic? What if I got it off and couldn’t get it back on invisibly?

With my seam ripper, I cautiously, slowly, found the stitching behind the cording and clipped the stitches.

Removing tab

So far, so good. At this point I was trying out ideas to see whether they would work. Just to find out how stitching through this very dense, heavy fabric would be, I began to chain-stitch with DMC pearl cotton #8 along the cording, over the line of visible stitching you can see above. It looked great so I continued, but the pre-existing stitching began to come out. What effect would this have? Was it necessary to the construction of the tab? I just kept on. It was the stitching I had snipped.

First border

Next I thought about trying a row of diamond stitches down the middle of the tab.

Now the diamond stitch is a complex stitch requiring seven steps to complete. The examples below are from Sharon Boggon’s TAST 2010, where I learned it.

diamond-13diamond-14

As you can see, working this stitch precisely requires evenweave fabric on which you can count the threads. The jacket is definitely not evenweave fabric.

Since I needed to refresh my memory of how to do the diamond stitch, and because I wanted to see how it would look, I got out a piece of brown raw silk noil—the  fabric closest in color I found in my stash, and practiced the stitch. Since it is not evenweave either, I used waste canvas to keep my stitches even. Waste canvas is an evenweave material. You stitch over it, then remove it—one thread at a time, from under the stitching. I tried two weights of thread—pearl cotton #5 and #3.

Practice cloth

This project is a learning process, technically challenging, all the way. At each step, I’ve had to figure out how to do what I wanted to do. Tweezers were an important tool for this project, as you will see—tweezers and magnifying lenses.

Eager to see how this stitching would look on the jacket, I pinned waste canvas to the tab I’d outlined in chain-stitch and began making diamond stitches. But the waste canvas had shifted a bit and the line wasn’t straight.

Trimmed waste canvas

That was very obvious after the waste canvas had been removed. I unstitched and tried again.

Removing waste canvas, one thread at a time:

Removing waste canvas

After I had stitched the row of diamond stitches on the second tab, I saw that it was not identical to that stitching on the first tab, which I had spent 1 1/2 hours re-attaching to the tunic. Uh-oh, I thought, I may have to re-do this stitching, too, and so I pinned the tab to the tunic. Then I unattached the next tab and chain-stitched the border.

Production

Okay, this was good. I decided to keep doing that—getting the tab off the tunic, tweezing out the snipped threads, and putting in the chain-stitched border. In production mode, I chain stitched around all the tabs.

Then I went into production mode for the diamond stitching—attaching waste canvas to all the tabs and putting diamond stitch on all of them. Once I had figured out how to get perfectly straight rows, it was easy to do; but it took me a long time to get there. I know. It looks so easy.

First to last_edited-1

When I’d stitched all the tabs, it was clear that the second tab was, in fact, not acceptable.

Unacceptable

I unstitched it and did it again.

Taking out

Here, all the tabs have been embellished and attached to the jacked.

Tabs done

Next I embroidered the epaulettes, using #3 pearl cotton and making the stitches larger. The thread is not this red. It is deep maroon, but I couldn’t get that with my camera.

Epaulette

These are the threads I used in truer color.

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Around the collar and cuffs, I chain-stitched a line of #8 pearl cotton against the cording. Getting the needle through this tough fabric sometimes required pliers. And making sure the stitches went only through the outer layer of fabric was fiddly work. Very slow.

Pliers

Okay, the exterior was finished. Inside, I wanted to put Josh’s name and mine. I tried several ways of stitching the names:

Label trials

On the black fabric (which had had a previous life as the lining of a suede belt) I stitched over Sulky tearaway foundation, then found out I couldn’t get the Sulky out of the inside of these small letters. Not for love nor money nor an hour of trying. Why didn’t I think of white transfer paper first, instead of last?

After I finally got Josh’s label satisfactorily stitched, I struggled with my signature, having to completely unstitch the tiny single silk floss stitches I’d used to couch #8 pearl cotton in trailing stitch.

Unstitching

But success came at last:

Labels

I made my labels match the original jacket label.

Inside

Done at last.

All done

I gave it to Josh yesterday. He loves it. Here he’d just discovered the detail of the stitching on the cuff  and was exclaiming over it.

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With the jacket closed:

Closed

I think it looks terrific on him.

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Pole vaulting

On Monday I went with my son Michael to a state-wide high school track and field tournament where my grandson Josh (who won the award for oratory in May) was competing in pole vaulting. The meet was held in a large sports center where many events were taking place at the same time. We waited for two hours before the pole vaulting began. It was my first time in decades being among a large crowd of teenagers. That was an enlightening experience in itself—seeing something of the culture in which my grandchildren live.

Here’s the scene, with one vaulter in mid-air:

Last year Josh won the state championship. On this Monday, he had awakened in a black mood. Having failed to clear the bar in his last three meets because he is unable to practice in the winter, not having access to an indoor facility, he was sure he would fail again. “I don’t want to do this,” he said to me in the kitchen as we were preparing to leave.

For two hours Michael and I, with no access to Josh on the field, watched him, watched his despair manifested in his body language. Alternately, he paced along the track in front of the bar and sat, head down to his knees, hoodie pulled completely over his face, like a shroud.

Josh had told Michael that if he failed to clear the bar, he would be ineligible for the state championships this season. It was grim. Michael was in anguish, knowing how badly Josh felt, and I was hurting for both my son and  my grandson.

In this video clip, the hoodie is gone, maybe that’s progress, but he’s still morosely pacing, not interacting with anyone.

This is NOT Josh–usually buoyant, cheering on his teammates, and having fun.

Finally, unable to stand it any longer, Michael spotted the McDonogh coach on the opposite side of the field. He walked around the perimeter and spoke to the coach, “Josh is in a bad place. Please go talk to him.” Which the coach did.

Still, Josh remained grim, stoney-faced—no “Joshing” around.

In the following clip, at least he’s talking to someone. Notice, though, how much fun the other kid is having, while Josh remains serious, impassive.

Methodical warmup.

On his first and second attempts to vault 10 feet high, Josh failed.

Now, Josh has vaulted 13 feet high. Ten feet is nothing for him. Imagine his despair. See the dejection and anger as he leaves the pit. But something happened to Josh between the second and third (last) attempt at 10 feet. He looked different. He rejected the pole he’d been using and chose another. In his demeanor I saw determination. “You can do it, Josh,” I was thinking as hard as I could.

And he did! Stripped down to his McDonogh orange and black. Watch!

After that, it was just practice for Josh. He kept vaulting as the bar was raised higher, but it was for the fun of it and for the practice. He had qualified for the championship meet. To Josh, that was what was most important. To me, what was most important was seeing the transformation in him. I saw him will himself out of a funk. Now that ability applies far beyond pole vaulting.

Even though he still appears laconic here, now he is coaching his teammate. He is Josh again, actively involved, caring, and helping others.

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