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Most recent FAQ update: 12/22/11

(This is a straight port of my Napoleon FAQ from Livejournal, for backup purposes, mostly.)

For all those who have ever been curious about my giant cross stitch project, I present the answers to many Frequently Asked Questions. It's not that I don't like talking about Napoleon, but I sometimes find myself answering the same questions over and over again. It's a good idea to have one reference for everything.

Here's the most recent photo of my project, Napoleon Crossing the Saint-Bernard.

Mary's Napoleon, 9/23/11

Wow! That's really awesome!

Thank you. :)

What's the story behind this painting?

I want to be painted calm, on a fiery horse.

This was Napoleon's instruction to Jacques-Louis David. Not yet Emperor, Napoleon needed to create a historical legitimacy for his becoming absolute ruler. One way was through the story of his leading an army across the Alps - and reminding the world that he was just the third general in history to do so, after Charlemagne and Hannibal.

Napoleon refused to sit for the portrait and did not care if David achieved a good likeness - although he did insist that the artist take great care to paint his horse accurately.

The galling part of the story is that David took dictation in this manner and yet succeeded in making Napoleon Crossing the Saint Bernard a magnificent work of art. The only possible improvement David could have made is to portray Napoleon as he had actually made the journey - on a mule.
- Notorious Portraits, by John Malyon

The title of this painting is "Napoleon Crossing the Saint-Bernard." It was painted in 1801 by Jacques-Louis David, who painted many portraits of Napoleon. The scene depicted here is Napoleon Bonaparte crossing the Alps and leading his troops to victory; he will fight the Austrian army in Italy at the Battle of Marengo. He is passing through the great Saint-Bernard mountain pass, which is located in Switzerland. Julius Caesar and Charlemagne also used this famous route, and it's the pass that Hannibal supposedly crossed with his elephants in 217 BC. (There is little extant evidence of Hannibal's crossing.)

What is most interesting to note is that the events depicted in this painting did actually happen, but not like this. Napoleon crossed the Saint-Bernard riding on a mule, not a valiant war horse. See this link for Paul Delaroche's picture of how this event really happened.

The painting itself exists in many different color schemes. The color scheme of this piece echoes the piece commissioned by King Charles IV of Spain. This website gives more details about this particular version of this painting, and has this to say about the other versions of the painting:

"Four variant examples exist: an autograph destined for Bonaparte, at present in Charlottenburg (Berlin) (bay-brown horse, red cloak, signed and dated An IX); another (for the most part executed by the workshop) which was in the library of the Hôtel des Invalides and at present in the Château de Versailles (near Paris) (white horse, brown legs, red cloak, no date or signature); yet another sent to the Palazzo della Repubblica in Milan, today in the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna (white horse, brown legs, red cloak, signed and dated An X); and a final (very repainted version) taken by David to Brussels and at present in the stores of the château de Versailles (dappled horse, yellow cloak, signed); there are many copies in France, one of which is in the Minister of Defence's residence and another of which is at the Musée des Beaux-Arts de Troyes, not to mention copies held abroad and the numerous reproductions in tapestry, porcelain or engraving."

It can logically be said, then, that this is one of the most famous and enduring images of Napoleon Bonaparte that exists in the world today. And from a master of propaganda such as Napoleon, that's really saying something.

And that's cross stitch?

Yes. It's counted cross stitch, which means the project begins with a blank piece of fabric. Everything is stitched in proportion to everything else. A pattern is printed with representative symbols so that I know what to stitch where.

Where did you get the pattern from?

From the fine folks at Golden Kite. Their website is located at this link. They have many patterns, and all of them are of the same high quality as Napoleon.

How did you pick this pattern?

Actually, my mother picked it for me. It was Christmas 2002 and I mentioned that I wanted one of these patterns. I made a list of the ones I liked and my mother chose this one. I think that she probably picked it because it was the most complicated one on the list!

How did you get everything all set up? How much did it cost to start this project? It's so big, I bet it was a lot of money.

I went to Michael's for all my materials. The fabric is 18-count antique white Aida cloth, but I'm pretty sure that the color won't matter in the end. The thread is regular old cotton DMC embroidery thread, which costs around $0.25 for eight yards.

I also bought some stretcher bars, like the kind that painters use to stretch their canvases. Two are 30" long and two are 36" long. How fortunate, then, that these perfectly fit the dimensions of the fabric, which is 30" by 36". The fabric is held on the stretcher bars with ordinary thumbtacks, the kind with flat tops. The thumbtacks used to be more colors, but the plastic coverings have kind of popped off.

I also bought an easel to hold the frame of the fabric. It seemed like the logical choice.

The thread is wound on cardboard bobbins. Each bobbin is labeled with the number of the color and the symbol that represents that color. There are many blended colors in the piece, and each bobbin for a blended color shows both base colors and the symbol of that color. This allows for easy verification that I'm putting the right color in the right place.

Here's a picture of what the bobbins look like.

The bobbins

The total cost of the materials, including the easel, was between $100 and $150.

This is so huge! How big is it, really? And how do you make it more manageable to work on?

The finished size will be 24.1" by 28". So, two feet by two and a half feet. Keep in mind that that's 18-count fabric, so there are 18 little squares per inch of fabric. It's pretty detailed.

The stitch count is 435 x 515, placing the total number of stitches at 224,025.

I work page by page, starting in the upper left corner. Starting in the middle, like in most cross stitch projects, would be almost impossible, given the size of this undertaking. Going page by page allows me to keep better track of what I'm doing and gives me little boosts of accomplishments along the way.

There are 72 pages in the project, making eight rows of nine pages apiece. As of 9/23/11, I am working on pages 44 and 45. The picture above shows completion through page 43, with 132,057 (and then some) stitches completed. Napoleon is more than 58.94% complete. (I don't have my pattern handy as I am writing this update, which is what I usually use to provide this calculation.)

How many colors is it?

106 colors total, including solid and blended colors.

That level of detail is AMAZING! Can I see some closer pictures?

Of course you may.

Close up!

This is Napoleon's face, really, really, really close. Notice the blending of the colors and how it doesn't actually look like anything.

A little less close.

A few steps back make the colors blend together more. It's still a little pixelated, but it's clearly recognizable as a face.

Progress from 5/08/05

And there's a picture that shows the whole thing. The colors blend together even more, and the picture looks more like a painting and less like a cross stitch project.

Where's the backstitch? And the partial stitching?

There isn't any. All stitches are full cross stitches, with no partial stitches and no backstitch.

All of this awesome detail was achieved through careful blending of colors. There are so many different color combinations created by blending thread together that you can use to create this level of detail.

Questions from [profile] midnightsangelc:

You've said previously that you don't park your threads, but is there any special method you follow as you stitch? I.e., do you approach it as you would any other piece, or is there some kind of special thing that you do (other than your page-by-page methodology)?

There isn't, actually. I just go page by page. I've seen explanations of thread parking online and I don't understand how it would be possible to do that. Don't you lose track of which color goes where? Especially with Napoleon, where there are so many color changes in such a short space.

You've said it was 106 colors, but how many skeins of actual floss?

Yeesh. I don't remember. I want to say something around 200, but it might have been a little more or less.

How is your workspace lit? What kind of light(s) do you use, and how do you have them positioned?

I use sunlight, when it's available. When it's not, I have a couple of standing lamps from IKEA. They light my apartment as well as Napoleon, which is nice. I put in some GE Reveal lightbulbs, and the light from those is pretty great.

The way Napoleon is set up is that he's directly perpendicular to my patio, which has sliding glass doors. I open the blinds and try to work with natural light whenever possible.

What are your plans when you finally finish? Are you going to start on another super-large-scale project or stick with smaller ones for a while ("smaller" being a relative term, of course)?

Unclear. There are so many awesomely huge GK projects, but there are a lot that are smaller, too. I have their chart of "Girl with a Pearl Earring" all kitted up and ready to go. That one's more colors, despite being on a smaller scale - it's only 48 pages or so, and some of them are blank. I keep wanting to start it and then getting pulled back into working on Napoleon and other projects.

My goal is to finish Napoleon by the time I'm 30. That gives me just over seven years to complete the rest of it.

I like the GK charts of Alphonse Mucha's Muses; there are four of them on the site. I might get those and work on them all together as a collective piece.

What are your plans for Napoleon? To get him framed is obvious, but do you have plans on where/how to display him?

Well, once he's finally done, I'm taking him to The Country Mouse in Golden, CO, to get him framed. I may sound like an elitist frame snob by doing this, but the truth is, I wouldn't trust any other place to handle this project with the same care. Michael's framing may work really well for some people, but not for this. Napoleon gets the best.

After that, I'm taking out an insurance policy. Maybe even before. The problem is that I need to find an appraiser with needlework appraisal experience. Heck, I should have insurance on him right now. Regardless of what I'm doing right now or not, this piece is getting insured. I'll have spent years of my life on it and it will probably be worth a great deal of money.

After all of that's finished, he's getting displayed in my home. Ideally, there would be museum-type lighting and some kind of fancy recessed wall thing. But even if I'm just hanging him on my wall, it's still going to be awesome.

That should answer everyone's questions, I think. If you have any more, please feel free to leave them in the comments, and they will get addressed in later versions of this FAQ.

Happy stitching!

- Mary

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Mary

December 2011

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