And then I remembered (it snuck into my consciousness as I was waking up) a class I took years ago from machine embroidery wizard Libby Lehman. She showed us how to use a hoop to keep the fabric stretched taut, thus avoiding most of the distortion inherent in heavy threadwork. And I still had the hoop--and even more miraculously, could locate it in the studio. This made all the difference. Granted, it's a hassle to remove the hooped work from under the needle and move the hoop to another location on the fabric many, many times, but it worked. One full day to embroider the tree trunks, two days to add the pine needles, binding and finishing this evening.
This rectangular photo doesn't show the full view (which is square) but does give the general idea. The piece is backed and bound in a grayed green silk which almost matches the green of the tree in the lower left corner.
The red ladybug at the bottom references one of the original reasons for veiling the chalice: to keep out bugs, dust and bird droppings. When I raised this, assuming it to be a non-issue, with the head of the Altar Guild, she replied, "Well, we do have a ladybug problem, and sometimes mice." So, in the grand tradition of altar paraments, this chalice veil will be functional as well as decorative.
Libby Lehman suffered a stroke a couple of years ago and has been working hard at rehab ever since. At times it seemed she would not survive, would not speak, certainly would not return to quilting. Just recently, however, she was able to re-enter her studio and begin work at the machine. Devoted family, friends and skilled therapists have nurtured her courageous, stubborn spirit. All of us in the art quilt world are rejoicing; I am so thankful for my brief encounter in that one class with her.
Oh, and not to worry, I have not discarded the distorted piece of embroidery. I expect I'll be able to cut it up and use the trees elsewhere in this project. Never throw away extra patchwork or needlework--it may come in handy another day.