TRIFLES, ANYONE?

When I last wrote, I was just getting underway with my Trifles sampler, a special request from Younger Daughter.  Some of you expressed surprise that I don’t plan out these larger stitched projects all at once, graphing them up in their entirety before I start.  But I don’t, although this one is shaping up to be a bit less chaotic than my usual process.

To start – here’s what I’ve done so far:

Trifles-2

First off, I hemmed all the way around the edge of the cloth.  This is something I rarely take time to do, and always regret skipping.  It was furiously frustrating – to have the ground in hand but put off stitching, but I steeled myself to it and completed. 

Second, I basted lines indicating the centers, north-south and east-west.  Long time pal Melisande will smile at this because the thread I always use for this purpose is plain old sewing cotton left over from the bridesmaid’s dress I sewed to wear at her wedding.  It’s a pale baby blue – dark enough to be seen on white ground, and light enough to show on dark; non-fuzzing, quick to pull out, and non-crocking. 

Yes, when originally stitched the two center lines intersected, but it’s my habit to pick out the guidelines as I no longer need them, so that they don’t get caught up by the embroidery stitches.  I determined my center and began from there, removing and clipping my basted guidelines prior to working the cross stitching.

Cross stitching?  Yup.  Plain old cross stitch for the alphabets on this one.  Also for the Daleks, one of which can be seen adjacent to the big “P.” 

In this case I have actually graphed up the entire center section that bears the inscription and the offspring-mandated Daleks.  Younger daughter prefers symmetry to chaos, and she specifically requested that I do everything I could to align the words neatly.

Now, what to do for the rest of the piece, once the motto is complete….  Originally I thought I’d do more strips from my upcoming book, just for the fun of trying them out.  But the late 19th century alphabets in brown and gold silks is giving the piece a particularly steampunk look.  Again welcome, since Younger Daughter is a big steampunk fan.  I suppose those bands could work, but now I have been seized upon by a Concept, one that has affixed itself to me like a tiny homesick kraken. 

Instead of strips, I will probably do this as a montage in inhabited blackwork – the style that features solid outlines, with various shapes filled in using geometric fillings. 

Off I fly to draft and cut some standard stencils for my shapes, and to play with their placement.  Stay tuned!

ENDINGS AND BEGINNINGS

Some of each to report.

First, goodbye, this year’s crop of giant grass:

Grass-2

I cut it down with our hand-sickle.  Younger Daughter is stripping leaves from the longest stalks.  Elder Daughter and she bagged the remains for yard waste recycling, setting aside the best canes for use in next year’s bean trellis.  Resident Male took a heavy maul and split the clumps, which after two years unsupervised, were threatening a massive campaign of lawn-conquest.  So goodbye grass!  Hello, next year’s beans!

Second, Swirly is finished!

swirly-doneSwirly-corner

I like the way the mitering worked, even on the very narrow green strips.  I also used a sawtooth with a ten-row repeat, so I was able to easily fit it around corners, letting the natural splits between the teeth accommodate the direction change.  Swirly now goes to Elder Daughter, to replace the last blanket I knit for her, back when she was born.

Third, I can’t just sit.  Especially when I am thinking or listening.  I have to have something going.  So, as a think piece, to keep my fingers occupied, and because I haven’t knit a pair of socks for me in so long my own sock drawer is looking more like a darn-me convention, I finished a quick pair for me.

Happysox

This was done in Plymouth Happy Choices – a yarn that comes pre-knitted into a long scarf strip, then dyed.  The idea is to unravel the thing and re-knit it.  Depending on what you make the resulting pattern will be different, and always a surprise.  These are standard 72-stitch toe-ups on US #00 needles, with figure-8 toes and short-rowed heels.  I started at the same place in the color cycle repeat for both, but you can see that slight variations in dyeing produce fraternal instead of identical twins.  I happen to love it, but others may be more fastidious.  And yes – there’s a simple double YO diamond detail on the ankles, just for fun.

And another beginning – this time a stitching project.

I begin my Trifles sampler.  This is a promised/bespoken piece.  I made a sampler for Elder Daughter for her to take with her to her university dorm room.  It bore a motto, as a subtle bit of parental nagging, embedded in a loving-hands-from-home wrapper:

Younger daughter is now in 11th grade, and wants one, too. 

Hers will have a different motto, chosen just for her: “Pay attention even to trifles,” – one of Musashi’s nine precepts.  She’s also asked that it bear at least one Dalek.

Here is the materials set – the remainder of the 30-count linen I used for her sister’s, plus a pile of autumn colors chosen from the stash of silk floss I bought in India:

Trifles-1

In addition to Amy Schilling’s Dalek (chart at link above), I am using several alphabets from Ramzi’s collection of vintage Sajou and Alexandre leaflets, available at his Free Easy Cross and Pattern Maker website – a fantastic resource that should be better known.  You’ll note that for once I’ve actually laid out the motto ahead of time, rather than trust to luck and eyeballing.  This is because Younger Daughter is a creature of logic and symmetry.  I accommodate her preferences with a bit more precision than I usually use.

More on this project as it develops.  This time I’ll try to document what goes into my rather ad-hoc pattern selection decisions, and any tech tips I can.

Fall is after all, a time of endings and beginnings, and my favorite time of year.

SEPARATED AT BIRTH?

It’s not uncommon to find knitting yarns that are twins – products of the same factory, but bought and sold through different distributors.  Today’s case in point:  Marks & Kattens Fame Trend, and Wisdom Yarns Poems Sock.

two-yarns

Label info for the two varies slightly:

  • Poems Sock – 75% wool, 25% nylon, 100g, 420m.  Made in Turkey. 28st/36rows = 4in or 10cm on 2-2.75mm needles.
  • Fame Trend – 75% wool, 25% polyamide, 100g, 420m.  Made in Turkey. 26 st/37rows=4in or 10cm on 3mm needles.

Polyamide and nylon are the same thing, so the only real difference in labeling is the minor difference in gauge, with Poems being marketed at the slightly tighter sock gauge.

It’s clear that there is some difference in the color ranges carried under each label, but in this case I can say that Fame Trend color #666 is exactly the same as Poems Sock color #955.  So if you are short one yarn or another, you can try looking for its long-lost twin.  You may luck out and find the extra you need.

Now, why was this momentous discovery made?  It’s because of Swirly, which has grown to sofa size:

swirly-4

So far I’ve used 1.75 skeins of the green Zauberball, and four of Poems Sock.  I had one more skein of Poems, purchased via mail order from Webs.  As is common in long repeat variegateds, not every skein is equally bright.  My one remaining ball is a bit muddy compared to the others, and I was hoping I would not have to use it.  However, you can see that I ran out midway up the second side of my very simple sawtooth edging.  I clearly am going to need more…

But not to despair!  Albuquerque Nancys to the rescue! 

I have a long time pal also named Kim who lives out that way.  She’s a knit buddy and life-friend.  We’ve even worked side by side for more than a couple employers.  When she heard that her two local friends were planning a trip out to Boston, she suggested that they (both named Nancy) and I get together.  The Nancys were in the middle of a Great Stash Trim, refocusing their collections on the yarns they wanted to use most.  So I ended up being the beneficiary of a bag of onesies and twosies, all sock weight and lace weight – all most beautiful and prime quality.  Luck was clearly on my side because not only did I get a treasure that someone had to haul halfway across the country; buried in that treasure were two **perfect** skeins of the Marks & Kattens. 

So I can put away my muddy skein of Poems, saving it for future socks.  I can finish my sawtooth edging with vibrant color Fame Trend and finally complete Swirly.  And best of all, I got to meet the Nancys!

NORMALCY, THE APPROACH THEREOF

Where have I been?

Very busy.

Since the last post, admittedly almost two months ago, we’ve been re-nesting here in Arlington.  The Resident Male returned from India, having done the final closeout of our apartment there, shipped our goods home, and said his goodbyes to friends and co-workers. He and I ran away for a second week on Cape Cod.  We re-enrolled Younger Daughter in high school.  Elder Daughter and I embarked on job searches.  Our household shipment from India arrived, and we started the Great Unpacking.  I landed in a great job at CyPhy Works, and have embraced again the daily commute, this time with an added morning detour to the gym.

Now the school year has begun, and we’re almost back on normal routine.  There are still pockets of disorder in our living and dining rooms that we are slowly addressing.  Our India-bought rugs are back from being cleaned, and are now laid out in their new home.  Our kitchen goods have been sorted, with some stowed against future need, and others (like the rolling pin and round cutting/rolling platform hand-made by Driver Rupesh’s father) installed for immediate use.  And the chair is back, with the seat cushion redone.

You may remember the chair, with its shoddy seat of fraying satin over a cheese-like block of squishy foam, purchased from Just Antiques in Pune:

IMG_0318

Arlington furniture specialists Upholstery on Broadway took the wool tambour embroidered cushion cover I bought in Pune for this purpose, edged it out in brown ultrasuede and crafted this look:

afterchair 

I’m very happy with the result.  The curves of the stitched leaves echo the curves of the repurposed carved window treatment that makes up the chair’s back and sides.  And it’s quite comfy, too.

What’s on tap now?  Dealing with that remaining disorder, craftily kept just off camera in the shot above; settling into the new routine; finishing Swirly – the big lap blanket; and finishing up The Second Carolingian Modelbook.  More on all of this in future posts. And I promise you won’t wait two months to hear from me again.

OUR NATIVE PLACE

Now that we’ve been home for a few weeks, I can say that there are things I miss about India.  One of them is our friend and driver Rupesh.  We had lots of occasion to chat with him as we sat in traffic.  He was our guide and intermediary to a new culture; his questions and his answers to our own questions made us think. 

One conversation we had early on was about our “native place.”  Most Indians have one – an ancestral village or neighborhood where their relatives still live, and to which they return.  Having a native place is a vital link beyond kinship to its residents – it’s an attachment to the actual area and the land itself.  People are intensely proud of their native places, and follow everything that affects those places with great interest, even if they themselves are living in a city, far away.

Rupesh spoke with great affection about his native place, describing the house he grew up in, the retirement house his parents were building there, village life,his family, and the crops grown in his family’s various small fields.  Then he asked me about mine.  Where was it?  What was it like?  What grew there?

I admit I was at a loss.  Like many rootless urban Americans, we have no single place for the family to call home.

4535I suppose technically speaking, an avenue row house in Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn New York would be my native place.  We lived there until I was a teen, around the corner from one grandparents’ house and about 10 minutes away from the other.

The shot at right is as it looks now on Google Maps – not quite the same as I remember, but even digitally, one can’t turn back time.  Rupesh would be disappointed to know that very little grew there, at least not by the time my family lived there.  Truck garden farms and horse stables for the local race track had long since been paved over and subdivided into attached houses.

While I have deep memories of Brooklyn, walking to school and the neighborhood in which I lived, I have no particular attachment to it.  I barely remember the people I went to school with, and have not been back there in a good 30 years.

1100Next we lived in Teaneck, New Jersey.  That lasted from middle school through high school.  Again, an inner suburb, not quite as dense as Brooklyn, but long divorced from being anything other than a bedroom community.  I do have fond memories of several school friends, and am debating attending an upcoming high school reunion.  For agriculture, I did once try to grow carrots in the back yard.  I got leafy tops, but no roots.  So both I and the vegetables have no special ties to that little plot, either. My mom no longer lives there, so there’s no compelling reason to return.

After that I went off to college, and a wild array of ever-changing dorm rooms.  Nothing much settled down in the immediate post-college years, either.  I bounced from one Boston area entry level apartment to another, sharing the places with roommates or roaches.  Usually both.

394 may beacon

I wouldn’t call any of these residences home, let alone my special native place.

9004Eventually I ended up in Washington D.C., jobs being more plentiful there than in Boston in the early 1980s.  I will be forever grateful to the friends who let me couch surf in their tiny apartment for five months before I established myself and could afford to move to my own flat.  Fernando and I married and he joined me in my war against vermin in this College Park, Maryland building.

305Getting closer, but still no nostalgia.  We moved to get away from the Roach Motel, and resettled in Washington, D.C. itself, in a small apartment village in Takoma Park.  It was pleasant, although  not air conditioned in the D.C. heat, and an easy walk to the subway, the dojo and many of our friends. The best part was the low rent, which allowed us to save up to buy our first non-apartment home.

7101We are now inching up on Rupesh’s concept of attachment.  We worked hard on the house in Lanham, Maryland, and made very good friends with a neighbor, with whom we remain in touch to this day.  Our elder daughter was born here.  Through hard work, we tamed the muddy back yard and grew lots of flowers – cannas, mums, day lilies, Asian lilies, hollyhocks, marigolds, and others.  I’d consider this to be our first real home.

Better jobs beckoned, and we returned to Massachusetts.  315
We did a lot of research and ended up buying our next home in Arlington – a tiny 1950s era ranch.  Again, we did a lot of work on the house and grounds, finishing out the basement, making a garden in the back.  I attempted cucumbers, garlic and herbs, with equivocal success.  Younger daughter was born here, and we quickly grew out of the the place.

75We liked Arlington, so we ended up staying here in town, but in a larger home – a 1912-vintage arts and crafts style stucco bungalow.  We’ve been here for about 8 years now, and are still making improvements to it, slowly turning back 80 years of semi-neglect. We dabble in gardening, and have grown strawberries, climbing beans, and onions.

Now, with all of these places I’ve lived in over the years (and mind you, I’ve omitted quite a few short term spots), it’s no wonder I was cast into thought about the meaning of having a “native place.”  Both Fernando’s and my parents no longer live in the houses in which we grew up.  We have no links back to any of our old neighborhoods.  Our siblings, friends, and distant family are similarly scattered all over the US (with a few overseas). 

I had the impression that Rupesh felt slightly sorry for us and slightly confused by my answers, because we really had no geographic center of identity, attachment and affection.  I am quite fond of our current home. Perhaps that may qualify as our native place now, but I prefer to think of this family as carrying our native place with us.  My roots are shallow and easily transplanted. Although I love this house, if I had to go elsewhere, I would move.  My identity is built more on my family’s ethical and moral legacy, what I have made myself into, what I have done, and what we as our own nuclear family have become. 

So I guess my native place is my own dinner table.  Wherever that may happen to be.

SQUIDLEY REDUX

It’s been brought to my attention that the Squidley squid hat pattern I posted in December, 2011 has disappeared from this blog site.  Although lots of links broke – understandably – when we ported the site from the old hosting service to WordPress, I have noticed that things go AWOL.  Especially older blog pages, for no apparent reason.

So I repeat myself.  Eventually I’ll redraft this and add it to my pattern archive, reachable at the links above.  But for the time being, here’s a blast from the past.

__________________________

SQUIDLEY – A METHOD DESCRIPTION

A brief foray back into knitting. A long-deserving, cephalopod-loving pal of mine bespoke a hat. Not just any hat, a hat in the shape of a squid. How could I turn down a challenge like that? So this weekend past, finishing up last night I made one.

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There are several squid hat patterns on the Web, but I didn’t want to make any of them. I wanted to make a more hat-shaped hat, but with fully-rounded tentacles. I thought about knitting the tentacles first, then working up from there. While there are glove patens that start fingertip and work down, I dismissed the idea as being too fiddly. And seaming the tentacles onto a brim-up cap – even with mattress stitch onto a provisional cast-on row wouldn’t give the “bodily integrity” I wanted. So I decided to work top down with a double-knit ear band, with tentacles worked in the round.

The following post-mortem can’t properly be called a pattern, but the adventurous might be able to work up their own hat from it.

squid-2

I used approximately 150g of a DK-weight rustic wool, and US #6 (4.0mm) 10-inch long double pointed needles. I also used 12 stitch markers (four of one color, eight of another), plus a double pointed needle of indeterminate size as a large stitch holder later on. I used small scraps of white felt to make the eyes, and sewed them on. Large sparkly buttons or commercial googly-eyes could also be used. Duplicate stitch in a day-glow yarn would be suitably squid-like.

My gauge ended up being a very stretchy 5.25 stitches per inch, with the double knit section being looser.

I violated every rule of knitting, making no gauge swatch, and planning nothing out before hand. I can’t speak to quantity or yarn name – this being a coned Classic Elite remnant from their old back room, well aged in my stash.

I started at the top, with a standard figure-8 cast on, the same one I use on all my socks, putting six stitches each onto two needles (12 total). From there I increased standard-sock toe style (at both sides of the toe, every other row) until I had 40 stitches total. Then I decreased at the same points I increased, but upped the rate to every row, until I had 20 stitches total. I worked a couple more rows plain to finish off the little squid-wing nerdle at the top.

After that I designated five evenly spaced increase points and began shaping the top of my hat, working make-one invisible increases at each marker, working them every other round. About 2 inches down from where I began the hat body increases, I added an additional five increase points to broaden out the shape a bit and make it more full. I worked those in the same every other row progression as the other five until I had 88 stitches, and the hat body was wide enough to sit comfortably on my head. From there I continued in stockinette for about 4 inches, until I had reached the top of my ear (more or less). At this point things become interesting.

On the next round, I took a second strand of yarn and holding it with my main strand, knit all the way around with both strands. This was the set-up row for the double knitting section and doubled the number of loops on my needles. From here to the point where the tentacles start, the hat was worked double-knit style. I do this using a strickfingerhut (knitting strand manager thingy), to hold my strands side by side, but some people prefer to work double knitting in two passes. In either case, what you end up with is two layers of knitting, “back to back.” Remember – I worked the set-up row using two strands of yarn. As I work the next row I will tease the double loops I just made apart, and treat each one as a stitch. I will also use the two strands of yarn separately (this is where the strickfingerhut comes in handy to manage them).

Using Strand A, I knit one of the two loops that make up the first of my set-up row stitches. Using Strand B I purled the other loop of that first set-up row stitch. Taking care not to cross the strands, I continued this way all the way around, alternating knit-with-A stitches and purled-with-B stitches. I ended up with 88 knits interleaved with 88 purls, for a total of 176 stitches. NOT TO WORRY – the hat will NOT grow twice as wide. My own gauge for double knitting is slightly looser than plain one-strand stockinette I worked this way for about two inches to make a nice, cushy, warm earband (which is not a bad idea on any top down knit hat). At this point the hat-part of Squidley was done and it was time to make tentacles!

Squids are decapods. They have eight shorter tentacles plus two longer ones with little pad-like sucker-bearing ends. The two longer ones are often skinnier than the other eight. This worked out well for me as you will see.

Taking care to begin on the stitch column that aligned with the center of the squid-nerdle at the top of the hat, so that the two long tentacles would be properly lined up with the sides of the hat, I began moving my stitches to my spare circ. As I moved them I placed tentacle defining stitch markers, like this. I used two colors of marker (marker and Xmarker) to make life easier.

8 – Xmarker – 18 – marker – 18 – marker – 18 – marker -18 – Xmarker – 16 -X marker – 18 – marker – 18 – marker – 18 – marker -18 – Xmarker – 8

Then I shuffled the stitches around the circ so that I was at one of the Xmarkers that designate the smaller tentacle. I took two of my DPNs and moved the stitches onto them BUT I held my two receiving needles in one hand and put knit stitches onto one and purls onto the other. I ended up with two needles held parallel, with the stitches assorted around them, ready to knit in the round in stockinette like the finger of a glove. You might like to use more and shorter DPNs, but all I had in this size was a set of 3, so I was stuck.. All of the tentacles begin this way, shuffling stitches from the long circ onto DPNs for working in the round. I worked the two long tentacles first, shuffling stitches around the DPN to get to the second one, so that the memory of working the first one would be fresh (remember, I was working on the fly with no written directions).

To make a long tentacle – Starting with 16 stitches, Work in stockinette for 10 rounds. K2 tog, k6, k2tog, k6. Work in stockinette for 10 rounds. K2 tog, k5, k2tog, k5. Work in stockinette for 10 rounds. K2tog, k4, k2tog, k4. Continue this way until only 6 stitches remain. At this point I moved the stitches to one needle and worked another 2 inches I-cord style, then I divided my stitches back onto two DPNs to make the sucker pad. Make 1 (invisible increase), K3, M1, K3, knit one round. M1, K4, M1, K4. Knit one round. Continue working this way until you have 16 stitches total. On next round K2tog, k4, SSK, K2tog, K4, SSK. Then K2tog, k2, SSK, K2 tog, K2, SSK. Then K1, K2 tog, K2, K2 tog, K1. The final row is S1-k2tog-PSSO, S1-k2tog-PSSO. Break the yarn leaving an ending tail, and thread the tail through the final two stitches to end off.

To make a short tentacle – Starting with 18 stitches. Work in stockinette for 5 rounds. K2tog, k7, k2tog, k7, work in stockinette for 5 rounds. K2tog, k6, k2tog, k6. Work in stockinette for 5 rounds. Continue this way until you reach the row that leaves you a total of six stitches. Knit only one row of stockinette instead of five at this point. Then S1-k2tog-PSSO twice, break the yarn leaving an ending tail and thread the tail through the final two stitches to end off.

Finish off all ends, and sew on eyes of your choosing!

SWIRLY!

People who know me know that I sit still badly.  I have to have something in hand to do when waiting, watching TV (or listening to music), or while on planes or trains.  Or on vacation.  Nothing says vacation to me like sitting somewhere beautiful and taking in the scenery, abetted by needlework. 

The past several weeks have been quite a rush, tumbling together major triage on our Pune apartment, pre-packing, relocating back to the US from India (sans The Resident Male, who follows next week); then having only a couple of days home to set things to partial rights, before heading out with the kids and a kid-friend for our annual week on Cape Cod.  Now it’s pulling up the reins on our primary residence and getting it back under saddle, fixing two years of little annoyances, putting the cars back into full health and legal compliance, and the mother of all spring cleanings to dispatch the carnivorous dust bunnies now lurking in every corner.

So who has time for knitting?  Well… I do.  It’s mindless knitting, but it’s a comfort none the less.

I present Swirly – my own off-kilter take on the standard 10-stitch modular concept.  Except that instead of one color, endlessly spiraling around itself in 10-stitch wide strips laid out in a base square, I’ve made some changes.

Swirly-3

First, I’m using two yarns, one multicolor (Poems Sock), plus one variegated green (Zauberball), using a US #5 needle to make a light and airy garter stitch throw – a perfect “small something” to have on one’s lap while reading.  For the record, both are machine washable/dry flat wool/nylon blend yarns, so laundering will be easy.

I started with the multi, working a 10-stitch wide strip, eyeballed for length.  Then, leaving my active multicolor stitches on a holder, I worked a four-stitch wide strip of green around three sides of the multi.  Then I put the green on the holder and switched back to the multicolor, working a short-rowed mitered corner, then two rows of plain garter, and another short-rowed mitered corner to establish one end of my center area.  Then it was marching down the length of the green-outlined strip to the other end, working across the end (with mitered corners where appropriate).  When I caught up to myself, I resumed the green, also mitering its mini-corners where needed.  And I’ve kept going ever since.

What you see here is almost two balls of the Poems Sock, plus almost one Zauberball – all I had left in India, the last of the sock yarn stash I brought with me.  When we got back to the US I managed to order more of each (lucky me – three more balls of multi, one more of the green!), so the blanket will continue to grow.  As is, at this point, the thing is plenty big enough to be a baby blanket, so if anyone is looking for an unusual shower gift for parents who are not enamored of traditional pastels or sex-assigned color sets, 200 grams of multicolor sock yarn plus 100 grams of solid color are sufficient, provided no edging or supplemental finish is desired.

I’m not sure how big it will become. It will be done when I think it’s big enough.  And I’m not sure how I will finish it off.  The slip stitch selvedge edge stitches are a bit flabby to leave all on their own.  I’ll either do I-cord all the way around, or invent (or find) a nice, simple edging to give it a more polished final appearance.

So far I’ve enjoyed this mindless bit of knitting immensely.  I worked on it in the evenings while I was packing.  I knit more on our flights back home.  It was already large enough to cover my lap when we were stranded in Heathrow and spent the night perched on chairs in the main International ticketing hall.  I kept going with it on the Cape, watching the tide march in and out, measuring the time intervals by garter stitch production.  And I’m still working on it, relaxing with it on my favorite chair each night.  (I missed that chair while we were away).

There’s no moral to the story here, other than suggesting that in uncertain and confused times, an anchor – even a soft fuzzy one – can keep one from drifting.

sunset-2

SILENCE OF THE CLAMS

We are back home now after 18 months in India.  Packing and prep for this migration explains the lack of timely posts.  In many ways life there and here isquite similar.  But in others, it is worlds apart.  For example, it’s quiet here, outside of Boston.  Reaallly quiet.  That’s the first thing I noticed.

There are no beeping car horns sounded by drivers as they navigate by sonar or warn the cars around them of their presence.  There is no constant drone of thousands of diesel engines, idling in slow traffic.  There are no lowing urban cattle, clattering herds of goats, or the bells of camel harnesses.  The junk man (who has a foghorn voice) isn’t calling out to say he’s collecting discards on his creaky push-cart.  There is  no fleet of buzzing autorickshaws or three-wheeled minitrucks with tiny lawnmower size engines, laboring to haul their passengers or cargo around.  There is no swarm of putting two wheelers, flowing in and around the other traffic, filling all available space (sidewalks, lane markings, or opposing traffic patterns be damned.) There are no water-delivery tankers squealing their way up the street to keep the building supplied.  The world’s oldest contingent of lovingly maintained ancient bicycles is not creaking its way past our home.

There are no security guards tweeting their own whistles to stop cars or open gates.  There is no maid and mistress upstairs, arguing  incessantly and unintelligibly in their daily routine.  There is no symphony of venting pressure cooker whistles, as the entire building prepares its daily food in the cooler early morning hours.  The pre-monsoon wind is not moaning through what gaps it can find in the our windows, rattling the glass or shrieking behind the flapping curtains.

There is no bagpipe-enabled marching band rehearsing in a nearby field, or no fitness assessment tests directed by loudspeaker in the same arena. There are no wedding venues with nightly fireworks blasting music and incendiaries until 11:00pm, nor DJs at open air dance clubs playing top-volume music at night; and no tipsy patrons wandering back to their cars, smashing bottles and singing after the clubs and venues close.

There is no construction – no hammering from two apartments up, nor jackhammers attacking crumbling walls on the next block.  There are no gangs of pick-axe wielding laborers hauling baskets of earth around as they attempt rush road repairs before the rains come.

And there is no pack of pre-teen boys playing tag in the halls and elevators, nor feral dogs snarling and fighting over scraps dragged out of trash piles.

All I hear here in Arlington is birdsong, a few raindrops, the low hum of a car a couple of blocks away, and the tiny chirp of a passer-by’s cell phone.

It’s quiet.

DATING DILEMMA

Sorry folks.  This has nothing to do with anyone’s search for companionship.  Be warned, it’s all about embroidery, and this is a post that only a stitching geek will love.

As I fill out the last few pages of The Second Carolingian Modelbook, I’ve decided to take a stab at a design that seems to be everywhere.  Except modelbooks, that is.  I call it “Pelican with Harpies and an Urn.”  It is one of a set of patterns that crops up again and again  in museum holdings worldwide, most often as a fragment.  It’s clear that unlike many other snippets, these all came from different works, often executed in different styles or stitching media. I’ve posted about this before, but my collection of examples continues to grow, and with it, the general confusion level.

The dilemma comes in because (to my knowledge) there is no existing printed pattern to establish a point of temporal or geographic origin.  But there are lots of examples and they all express the details of the design slightly differently.  Now if there was an authoritative point source that became unavailable, one would expect later iterations to be less detailed, or details to become blurred, through succeeding generations of copyist errors.  We can see that with the oft-studied “boxers” sampler motif in Colonial American samplers – which probably started out as a cherub bearing a flower, but over time became less specific and more stylized, until what remained was a barely discernable chubby humanoid with a club fist. But I can’t arrange the Pelican/Harpy/Urn designs in an ironclad continuum of graduated detail.

Here’s the parade.  The thumbnails are not clickable, please visit the links to see the museums’ higher resolution images.

CH-1.  First is this example from the Cooper-Hewitt’s collection (Accession 1931-66-144).  They date it as being a 17th century work, but do not offer a provenance.  It’s done in silk on linen, with a characteristic tightly drawn background that produces the appearance of mesh, but does not involve withdrawn threads.   Details are rendered in straight stitches, and may include double running or back stitch (it’s hard to tell without seeing the reverse).  The museum acquired it in 1931, as a gift from Sarah Cooper Hewitt.

80257_b11af0797f4b6894_b-cooper-hewitt

CH-2.  The Cooper-Hewitt has another example (Accession 1931-66-142).  This one is specifically called out as being Italian, and is also dated to the 17th century.  It’s a particularly prime piece because it is a full span cut across the end of the towel, cover or cloth it came from. We see the orientation, the top and bottom borders, and how the slightly different side borders framed the work. The museum acquired it in 1931, also as a gift from Sarah Cooper Hewitt.

46694_b995fc22e0ef9eaf_b-cooper-Hewitt

HERM-1.  The Hermitage Museum has two examples.  This one is entitled “Valence Embroidered with a Grotesque Motif (fragment),” but the on line page has no accession number.  The full description calls out the linear stitching as being double running (Holbein), and the background as being drawn thread.  They attribute it to Italy, and the 16th century.  The museum got this piece in 1923, via the Stieglitz School, and ultimately from D. Flandin, an antiquarian dealer in Paris.

J_23_236YPGSHPFBMHX12-hermiage

MET-1.  Yet another example in the same style.  This one is from the Metropolitan Museum of Art (Accession 14.134.16a).  The MET cites it as being Italian, and 17th century.  Although this one is at a different museum, and is clearly not a separate piece of either artifact, there’s a connection with the two above. It was acquired in 1914, via the Frederick C. Hewitt Fund.

DP2573-MET

HERM-2.  On to another stitching style.  “Valence Embroidered with a Grotesque Motif” from the Hermitage also has no listed accession number. This piece is lacis (darned filet net).  It’s dated 16th century and placed in Italy.  Although filet work doesn’t allow for the linear details of the red examples above, it’s amazing how much fidelity to the design can be included. Like the other Hermitage piece, it entered their collection via the Stieglitz School Museum in 1923, but came from the collection of J. Kraut, in Frankfurt-am-Main.

XP_40PIAPUHT0W73RE3

MET-2.  More stitched net, and not another piece of the one above.  This one is also from the MET (Accession 06.582).  It’s cited as being Spanish, from the 17th century.  This piece was acquired in 1906, via the Rogers Fund.

705-MET

 

My Opinions

First of all, I’d agree that the source for these was probably Italian, regardless of where the final objects were collected from.  I’d also agree that very late 16th century, but more probably the early 17th century is reasonable for the whole pattern family based on the style, usages, media, and iconography, plus parallels to other contemporary designs.

On to the motifs themselves.  The version with the most minutely rendered detail is CH-1. Here are close-ups of the birds/urns and harpies from the five, presented in the same order as aboveCH-1-birdCH-1-harpy

CH-1 presents the most detailed urn and pelican of the set. Both are encrusted with small linear features, although the placement of those features is not always symmetrical, nor is it identical from repeat to repeat.  Feathers on the harpy’s body are shown in neat rows, but her wing feathers are very stylized, using right angles rather than diagonals. I’m unsure what she’s holding – a cup or panpipes (perhaps a fancy on my part, to think of that flower as the music of the pipes).  From the patterning, it’s clear that the thing across her middle is her tail, wrapped up from between her legs.

CH-2-birdimage

It’s hard to see clearly, but there are lots of differences between the urns and pelicans in CH-1 and CH-2 (blurry pix above).  It’s clear that both have less detail.  But one of Mother Pelican’s chicks has moved up near her bent head, and another now floats over her back.  The nest detail seen in CH-1 is now symmetrical right and left at the top of the urn, instead of looking like leaves on one side, and scrolls on the other.  The sprouts on either side of the urn’s bulbous body have changed attachment points, and now hang down, instead of growing up as pomegranates.

CH-2’s harpy has retained her hairdo, but her wings are a bit more gracefully rendered, employing 45-degree angles to round off some of the shapes.  Her feathers are more evenly spaced, but her tail is less pronounced, and whatever small markings covered her haunches have been lost in favor of more, smaller feathers.  The thing she’s holding has lost its hatching, and now looks more like a cup than panpipes. She has also inherited another wayward pelican chick.

MET-1-birdMET-1-harpy

MET-1’s urn is in between the other two in terms of detail.  The nest/scroll unit at the top underneath the big pelican has transformed into a chick.  The stitcher chose not to fill in the background in the loop defined by the pelican’s neck.  There is something unidentifiable between the pelican’s legs, and her fathers are somewhat simplified compared to CH-1.  The lower ornament is again descending from the bowl of the urn as leaves, rather than rising from the base.

The harpy too has changed a bit.  In this case, I’d say the sipped/sounded thing has parted company from the hand, and now looks more like panpipes, vaguely supported rather than held.  She’s gotten a bit more balloon-like, and her breast feathers now march row by row.  Her wings however have gotten a bit stunted, and return to a stepwise rendering similar to CH-1, but slightly more clumsy.  The tail is suggested, and the haunches have been returned to stippling rather than feathers.

HERM-1-birdHERM-1-harpy

OK.  It’s clear that detail is going to be lost when you move from ornamented surface stitching to the negative/positive lacy mesh look of the all-white technique.  But even so, a tremendous amount has been preserved.  We see the plumage of Mother Pelican, and even some details on her brood (she’s managed to gather three of them together on top of the urn).  Her nest is symmetrical.  The urn preserves the shapes and proportions of the red stitched pieces, and has grown back the two small pomegranates that grow from the base.

The harpy too preserves a lot of detail, down to the proportions and shapes of its flight feathers, and a bit of the detail inside of the wing.  She’s lost some weight, although her hairdo is less detailed. Breast feathers are present, as is a pretty clearly defined tail.  Stippling on the haunches looks different from the breast plumage, and her feet are now nicely shaped lion paws.

MET-2-birdMET-2-harpy

The final example, MET-2, the Spanish piece, is a bit simplified.  The harpy is less prominent, and the largest space is given over to the urn and pelican, and to the foliate ornament between the repeats.  Mother Pelican’s brood is more suggested than rendered, although her feathers are nicely done.  The urn has the two upward growing pomegranates emerging from the base.

The harpy’s cup/instrument has become less detailed.  It’s unclear what it might be.  Her feathers have given way to geometric ornament, and her tail is suggested in shadow rather than being clearly defined.  Her wings are somewhat like the Hermitage example’s, though.  It’s worth noting that her proportions and body shape are more like CH-1 than the other examples.

One other thing that’s of interest is the presence of the little filled boxes that bead the motif’s edges.  You can see them along the curve of the pelican’s neck, along the harpy’s breast, and lower legs.  They give a lacier appearance to the composition.  I also find little protrusions like this to be extremely valuable as I stitch my motifs because they help me confirm counts and stay true to the design.  Note that they are absent in the other renditions.

 

Now, having our fill of urns and harpies, what can we say about them?

It’s obvious that there is an as-yet unidentified but unifying source for this design.  I posit that there might originally have been a broadside or model sheet that showed the composition.  I guess that it may have been on the count, and that its broad outlines were used to establish the placement of the main design elements.  But I don’t believe that it was followed exactly.  Instead I think each stitcher used it to establish the first iteration of the design, filling in the details and roughly eyeballing their placement, taking inspiration rather than ironclad direction from the model.  Once the first repeat was worked, subsequent repeats and mirrorings were copied from that, with no more call to look at the original.  That’s why the baby birds wander around, while the relatively easy to place urn decoration remains more stable.

Because of the different media and slightly different interpretations of the pattern (especially the pomegranates on the urn, and some differences I didn’t detail in the filler between the main motifs), my guess is that the same design branched into two slightly different but recognizable pattern “traditions,” which in turn spawned child works of their own.  One of those traditions (marked by the upward pomegranates) made the leap from surface work to darned net.

Now.  Which came first?  I can’t say.  On intuition alone I’d go with the fat, balloon-bodied harpy (MET-1) being later than CH-1, and the two white filet pieces belonging to the same “tradition” as CH-1.  That leaves MET-1 and CH-2 as child works of the other branch.

Which came first?  What chronological order can be used for these pieces?  Aside from these idle thoughts, your guess is as good as mine.  If you’ve managed to make it this far, please feel free to differ.  Without detailed analysis or forensic investigations into fiber and dye, we’re all just speculating, anyway.

IT’S NOT A MYTH

I know I’ve been promising for quite a while, but serious progress is being made on The Second Carolingian Modelbook:

book

The thumbnail shows the first fifty or so plates, plus their write-up pages.  There are seventy-five in all, well over 200 patterns, with each and every one linked to a specific historical artifact or primary source.

About two thirds of the patterns are specific for counted linear styles, or mixed linear/voided works.  The rest are solid block unit patterns suitable for background or foreground stitching.  They can also be used for knitting, crochet, marquetry, mosaics, or any other craft that uses charted motifs.

Right now I’m touching up a few of the pages, writing a similar number of comments, plus the intro essay, and cleaning up the bibliography.  I’m torn about including indices like I did in the first book. I don’t think they were of much use, so I am thinking of omitting them in order to get this puppy finished for once and all.

So that’s where I’ve been, and what I’ve been doing.  I promise to trumpet here when the book is available for sale.

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