We’re still learning the ropes of our new adopted home, but we took off some time last week before Younger Daughter started school today to explore some of the sights of the Pune area. Thankfully, Elder Daughter was armed with her camera, because I’m pitiful at taking pictures.
On Wednesday we visited Parvati Darshan, a temple complex on a hill in the middle of the city. Structures at the complex date to the mid 1700s, and were constructed by the Peshwas, the royal rulers of the Maratha Empire, formerly centered in this area.
There was a small cultural museum at the base of the hill, displaying Peshwa dynasty artifacts, including weapons, portraits of the ruling line, coins, and everyday items. The climb to the 2,100 foot summit was a short uphill hike ascending wide ramps and stairs, with stonework to either side.
The Vishnu temple at the top is spectacular:
And the view of the surrounding city is also well worth the ascent, although I don’t have any snaps of that to hand.
With the quick climb behind us, our driver Rupesh suggested additional exercise – this time a hike up to Singhagad, one of the massive fortifications ringing the city. These forts also date back to the 1600s and 1700s. They changed hands many times and were the sites of historic battles, sieges, and massacres as the Maratha forces vied with the Mughals for control of the region.
Singahad Fort’s summit is over 4,300 feet – about 2,625 feet above the surrounding country, an imposing presence with a commanding view. To be entirely fair, we didn’t hike from the base. There was a twisty switchback road about 1.75 car-widths wide that took us most of the way. One side of the road was the cliff, the other a haphazardly defined margin of scrubby bushes, with a deadfall just beyond them. Since this was a two-way road with occasional bus traffic, it made the day all that more exciting. The last several hundred feet though was on foot, up another series of ramps and stairs, winding around the top of the hill.
The climb does not dissuade path-side snack sellers, who ply their trade at every landing and vista on the way up. The white city in the distance is Pune.
Around every breathless bend was another spectacular shot:
We went out touring again on Saturday. First we went to the Rajiv Gandhi Zoological Park. We went early, just as it opened. The morning was cool and breezy, and the zoo was quiet and shady, compared to the bustle of the streets. The larger animal exhibits are well spread out, and we enjoyed strolling along the zoo’s lanes to find them.
Having been warned, we avoided the thought of ruffling the tigers, guar, wolves, and hoofed stock. Snake hackling was also right out.
You’ll have to take our word for it though that we saw elephants, macaques, and cobras, too – but all were camera-shy.
After a pleasant morning strolling about, we went to another historical venue. This was a memorial to Shinde Chhatri, a heroic general of the Marathas, who served the Peshwas from 1760 to 1780. The building has been recently restored, inside and out.
The caretaker explained to us (as best he could) that the line of notables descended from the general and his family (the portraits lining the walls) persists to this day, and remains active in governance and politics.
Needless to say, I’ll be reading more about India’s pre-Colonial history, especially that of the Maratha Empire.
And it’s snuggly!
Not only is Motley officially finished:
I’ve also posted a full pattern for it in the Knitting Patterns section, above. The pattern also includes directions for Hollow Point Edging – a new, quasi-original finish. Complete with a short-rowed turned corner, in both chart and prose.
How did the end of this project go? Quickly and not very quickly at the same time. Knitting this was a breeze. I cast on the week before Thanksgiving, and finished on Friday last, minus a week spent knitting fingerless gloves. That’s a rather large sofa throw in fingering weight in three weeks of evenings. BUT the last two days were a slog:
That’s one evening’s worth of orts from the Dreaded Darning In The Ends phase. No doubt about it – Motley had a lot of ends. I looked into various knit-in as you go methods, but I wasn’t convinced of their durability in a blanket, so I did it the hard way. Still, I had nowhere near as many ends as the look of the blanket presents. Remember, most of my yarns were leftovers from self-stripers. That means color changes without ends. A joy!
One last note – although I usually block my finished pieces, I did NOT block Motley. The reason I didn’t is because of the wide variety of yarn densities and gauges used. I was afraid that while everything is nice and flat now, if I were to block the thing, each fragment would behave differently, leading to cupping, sagging, or differential stretch. So I punted and let it it sit, as is.
I do hope that someone else attempts this one. It’s fast, it’s fun, and if you use up that dratted bag of leftovers that’s taking up space in the back of your closet – it’s practically free.
It’s been a hectic several weeks here at String Central, encompassing major transitions and a very small crumb of Hurricane Sandy.
First on the transitions – I’ve left my job to concentrate on our India migration preparations. I’ve not made a secret of being a professional proposal manager, but I’ve avoided naming my former employer here to date. I will miss my colleagues at iRobot, where I worked on the defense and safety side of the house. I supported robotics research; and the various robots used for bomb disposal, infantry support, and nuclear clean-up. It’s hard to beat the combo of brilliance, passion, and creativity at a place like that, or knowing that the work you were doing helped people save lives on a daily basis.
In the midst of emotional upheaval of leaving, the recent storm provided a reality check.
We had it nowhere near as bad here as folks further south in New York and New Jersey. Shout-outs of support and sympathy to those in my childhood neighborhoods of Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn and Teaneck, NJ (Bergen County); to Long Time Needlework Pal Kathryn in New Jersey and to Mathilde, also near the landfall area; and to all others suffering the storm’s aftermath.
Please join me in offering assistance to those in need by donating to the charity of your choice, or to the American Red Cross: http://www.redcross.org/
Unfortunately, times like this bring out lots of bottom feeders. I strongly suggest heeding the advice here before unlimbering your wallet.
We were without power until Thursday here – the result of a small but spectacular power line fire in front of our house, that occurred at the height of the storm. It took about 2.5 hours before the utility had a truck free to turn off the electricity. In the mean time, we had a leaping, sparking power line; and a spreading turf fire. Luckily the ground was wet, so the fire burned down into the lawn instead of spreading the short distance to the house and cars, but it was so intense that the copper itself burned (green flames) and the turf vitrified into solid, red-hot masses. When the power was safely out, the fire department came to dig out and extinguish the blaze. The only casualties ended up being a swathe of grass, our collective nerves, and some refrigerator perishables that didn’t survive the lingering power outage.
Thanks to the first responders who came to shepherd the hazard and stayed with it through the worst of the wind, and to the crews that dealt with the fire and its aftermath.
We still have no land line phone, but that’s just a minor annoyance.
Halloween did happen here, although with a dark street, only the most intrepid and candy-hungry kids came to our door. But we were ready:
(Sadly, the head sensor gizmo on Younger Daughter’s pumpkin Dalek did not survive the first wave of trick-or-treaters).
And finally, after all this blather – report on what needlework progress I was able to manage by candlelight:
The finish of the cotton Kombu Scarf:
And most of yet another Lattice Wingspan:
I plan to invest my new found daylight hours in additional post-storm clean-up, attending to India related preparations, fixing the vintage yarn chart/needle size chart for reposting here, studying Hindi, and working to get T2CM out the door. In more or less that order.
The international glossary of knitting and crochet terms formerly posted at wiseNeedle is back up! It will be a permanent part of the standing offerings here, accessible via button from every page.
Added several more rescued patterns from wiseNeedle to the Knitting Pattern link above, including:
- Firefighters’ Socks
- Impossible Socks
- Pine Tree Toe Up Socks
- Jelly Bean Toe Up Socks
- Ch’ullu Hat
- Knot-a-Hat Earwarmer Band
- Spring Lightning Lacy Scarf
Will continue to plug away. Reminder – please, if you are thinking of linking to these, please link to the source page rather than the individual PDF. I can’t guarantee that the PDF links won’t change.
I’m delighted to announce that my Long Time Needlework Pal Kathryn, aka Mistress Kathryn Goodwyn, OL (Kathryn Newell) has released her labor of love. She’s been working on re-issuing her Flowers of the Needle collection – reprints of seven historical embroidery pattern books from the 1500s. After years of labor, retouching the originals that made up her initial publication – she is done, and the series is ready. You can enjoy it here:
She has also reposted her German Renaissance embroidery book reproduction, and her treatise on voided style embroidery, known in its modern form as “Assisi Work.”
Best of all – she’s releasing all of her documents as free downloads. Pop on over there and be amazed at Kathryn’s diligence and bounty! You’ll find ample materials there for all sorts of historical embroidery and lace styles, plus lots of inspiration for modern reinterpretation in knitting, filet crochet, or other crafts.
Now we’ll all have to join her in her standard litany – “Too many centuries, too little time!”
Where was String last week? At a conference! This was a new experience for me. I’m pretty much a lone-wolf stitcher. I don’t belong to guilds or stitching circles, and have no local pals who pursue this stuff. I toodle along on my own, with a couple web-pals and chat boards for company, and have persisted this way for decades. So it was a huge departure for me to splurge on attending the Winterthur Needlework Conference With Cunning Needle: Four Centuries of Embroidery.
First off, I was amazed that so many people were there. I expected maybe 100, tops. But there were many more, possibly as many as 600+(doing the math on the rows of chairs at the big lectures). It was a big treat to be surrounded by so many knowledgeable and enthusiastic folks!
Here’s my report. I hesitate to post pix, not being sure if “private research use” covers blog use. Also apologies for massive blocks of text. Feel free to skip this and head off to eye candy elsewhere. I won’t be offended. Oh. And I didn’t take notes, opting instead to concentrate on the presentations. The summary below is from memory. Apologies if I get the details wrong. If you were there, please feel free to correct me or add on.
The first two lectures focused on the Faith Plimouth Jacket. The first one was by Dr. Tricia Wilson Nguyen and the second by Jill Hall – the two leaders of the Plimouth Plantation jacket re-creation project. Fascinating. Together they presented a general overview, but not a content free skim over the top. All parsed in terms of the socioeconomic context of the world in which the jacket was produced. Which sounds dull, but wasn’t. Why were the English embroidery styles used on the jacket largely detached? Why were the gold and silver laces and spangle of the period so sketchily done? Why did the jackets disappear from the historical record so quickly? Why were the techniques represented in the jackets used? What was the purpose of wardrobe pieces like this, and how did that purpose persist in the face of changing styles?
Wilson opined that in part the creation and popularity of these sumptuous jackets has to do with the lack of an English banking system in late Tudor, Stuart and Cromwell eras. We wandered off into regulations of the gold thread drawing industry, the economics of frippery (second hand clothing), the apprenticeship system, thread production and use patterns, and the time/thread consumed by competing techniques. In short, these were rapid production pieces, made by workshops, valued as much (if not more) as walking bank accounts – the detached embroidery, lace and spangles could be snipped off and melted down – cashed in against need, in the days before reliable deposit accounts existed. When deposit banking became more stable and wealth could be more safely kept, the jackets (and I’m betting some other forms of household plate and ornament) fell out favor.
Another major takeaway from Wilson’s talk was the prevalence of marled threads. You now all those subtle color to color transitions? The stitching ateliers and private embroiderers did not maintain massive stocks of zillion shade increment threads. Instead they used a smaller number of colors, but custom split and twisted stitching lengths on an as-needed basis, often blending colors to achieve “in-between” color values. The silks did not come pre-spun in ready-to-stitch skeins. Silks came in raw reeled but dyed hanks, tightly twisted into almost baton like lengths. The stitchers would tease out the requisite fibers, and twist up just the length they needed, plying colors as needed. This technique is also used in historical and contemporary Japanese embroidery. In addition to the marled colors, you can see evidence for custom split and twisted thread on samplers made by beginning embroiderers, who were not yet skilled enough to produce lengths of uniform thickness.
Some of Hall’s main takeaways were the shaping nature of bodies (corsets) worn under garments like the jacket, and how knowing of their presence can make sense of (to we unbound moderns) posture, movement, and actions shown in historical art pieces. She went more into jacket shapes and construction, showing variants. She also explained how silhouettes changed over time and how even with changing fashions (and creative ways to wear them), the jackets maintained their presence.
The 2+ hours of lectures flew by so quickly I didn’t notice how dense pack the morning was until it both were over.
After lunch there were two more lectures – Old London to New London: Tracing Needlework Patterns and Skills in Early America by Susan Schoelwar and Artful Adornments; Embroidered Accessories of Boston Schoolgirls by Pam Parmal, curator of textiles at the MFA, Boston.
The first talk centered on several styles and object classes common to Eastern Connecticut valley in the early to mid 1700s – showing how this rather insular frontier community (which it was back then) produced several identifiable clusters of work that can be related via formal schooling (needlework teachers and pattern drawers) or via familial relationships. The second discussed what Boston area schoolgirls were embroidering other than samplers, especially what older girls boarding with teachers were up to. I would have preferred more pix of the latter rather than descriptions or household inventories, but both lectures were engaging and well-delivered, and quite informative.
After lunch I went to a workshop on the Sarah Collins sampler, led by Joanne Harvey. She also put the piece into a social context, tracing the lineage of other contemporary 1600s American samplers, both through points of origin and ownership/lineage. Then she reviewed double running stitch for those who had never done it before, and for the folk who had – presented a variant of four sided stitch done both horizontally and on the diagonal. This variant produces diamonds on the reverse when the stitch is done on the diagonal. I hadn’t done that before.
My main take-away from the whole day is that no artifact can be examined out of context. That context can be economic, didactic, familial or any other set of circumstances, but all aspects play in every piece. Examine a stitched item on only one vector (say craftsmanship) and you miss a wealth of associations that reveal greater import to the piece than mere beauty. Even though that beauty may be what attracted attention in the first place.
A very long day, indeed.
The morning lectures started with a talk from Karen Hearn, the curator of 16th and 17th century art at the Tate museum in the UK. Her topic was embroidery depicted in period portraits. She presented a range of pictures from the gallery’s collection, and discussed whether or not portraiture can be used as a reliable resource for period needlework investigations.
The verdict was “not very.” All sorts of things intervene. First there can be a huge shift in colors, due to pigment color migration over time. She showed some blues that were vivid azure when new, that are now a totally unrelated beer-bottle brown. Other complications include artists that were more or less skilled in needlework depiction or who had varying levels of interest in rendering needlework with stitch accuracy (some pix are flat out representational and not literal). This could have been a product of whether or not the artist had access to the textile independent of the sitter (increases veracity). I can imagine that some sitters may not have actually worn all of the clothing pieces in which they are depicted at the same time. Some may have taken all their best, wearing it all at once for their sitting. Others may have been painted with family items or accouterments, in an effort to look richer or more influential than they really were. Takeaway from this lecture is “view all with grain of salt.”
The second talk was William Kentish Barnes – the master gold thread maker who supplied the jacket project. He spoke on the history and methods of his craft. While an engaging anecdotal speaker, he had rather more content and enthusiasm than public speaking experience and ran out of time before his talk finished. Still, it was interesting, if rather rambling. His main point is that motive power (human, animal, steam, electricity) may have changed, but the physical production of drawn wire threads remained stable until the invention of plating via electrolysis; and there’s nothing in the 1600s that we can’t make now, given demand to spark manufacture. He hinted quite broadly that if the stitchers in the audience wanted quality, historically accurate materials, that demand would suffice.
After break the third speaker was a PhD student, Nicole Belolan with a talk from her amusingly named thesis, The Blood of Murdered Time. Her talk explored Berlin woolwork (19th century needlepoint). Now Berlin is long maligned as a debased, populist craft. Although widely practiced, it had the same disparaged reputation in its time as plastic canvas tissue box holders have today. Belolan put it in social context, and looked at it through the experiences of a woman invalid, who although isolated through illness, maintained a long-distance social life and community via pattern sharing and gift exchanges with friends and family. I’m not likely to run out and stitch a sentimental spaniel among the posies, but Belolan did do a good job of showing the value of this populist style, and the populist, accessible appeal that it had at the time.
The last talk was by Dr. Lynn Hulse Archivist of the Royal School of Needlework. She spoke about the late 19th century revival of Jacobean-inspired crewel work, largely fostered by the Royal School of Needlework and some famous practitioners, most notably, Lady Julia Carew. Imagine one of today’s E! or gossip page luminaries, but highly talented at needlework, setting a style through personal production and sponsorship. With prodigious personal output including an entire room full of floor to ceiling panels, plus dozens of pieces of furniture and smaller pieces. Very interesting, and laudable – a product of the arts and crafts movement for sure. A very interesting talk about a very interesting woman. I’ll be looking for more info on Lady Carew.
After lunch I had selected two tours instead of sit-down workshops.
The first was a session in the rare book rooms of the Winterthur library (which is largely accessible on-line). No 1600s era modelbooks, but lots of slightly later works, plus 1600s era emblem and natural history works – both used for needlework inspiration.
The high point of the entire weekend came for me in the second half of the library tour, when we went down into the room to view ephemerata (really old non-book stuff, like pamphlets, scrapbooks, pattern pages, snippets, and broadsides). There, in an assembled book of textile fragments, awaiting restoration/mounting was an actual piece of 1600s era Italian voided work, done in red silk on linen. Exactly the style that I research and graph. It was done on around 50+count linen. While the pattern was rather more like some of the ones I used on my last piece, it had a squared background, exactly like the strip I am working now. I was able to see both front and back. There were knots! And the background was identical front and back – NOT in four sided stitch with little x’s on the reverse. I was THRILLED, I’d never been up close and personal with an exact representation of the stuff I’ve been graphing! We WERE able to take pix in the library, so I have photos of this piece. I intend to write to Winterthur and ask permission to include a chart for this unpublished work in TNCM2.
After that the second tour I took was rather anticlimactic. Which is strange to say for specialty a needlework tour of the Winterthur estate, of artifacts, interiors, textiles, and furnishings collected by the Dupont family. Samplers by the dozens. 1700s era, 1800s era. Some famous, some not. Mourning pictures, armorial pages, allegorical scenes. Fishing ladies. Hand-stitched and heirloom knotted rugs. Bed hangings. Quilts. Pinballs and etuis. Purses, pockets and pocketbooks. Clothing. Household linens. Stitching and knitting tools. After touring the on-display rooms, we went to the back stacks and looked at the off-display collections. More than any one human could process in the two hour tour. I now have stitching overload – SO many images running together in the brain that I can’t form a clear description of any one.
My big gains from the weekend are the importance of studying artifacts in context – knowing why and how they were produced, and for what purpose. That historical linens were rather gauzy compared to modern ground cloth of the same count. That historical pieces aren’t beyond the technical skill level and reach of modern stitchers, although the time investment may be on a greater scale than most of us can easily invest.
I learned that experiences like the Winterthur conference are extremely valuable – full of learning opportunities both in and out of the lectures. If you get a chance to attend something like it, and can manage to attend, by all means, do so! That there are lots more people pursuing the needle arts with serious scholarship and intent than on-line presence indicates, and the electricity of gathering them together is very special.
I also came away with a ton of contacts. Special hellos to the gang from Calontir, Jeanne, Ria, Janet, Sharon and all the other people who took time to chat with me. Apologies if I’ve left names out – I’m better at content and faces than names. I’m astounded that folk in the real world know of my book. Totally shocked in fact that almost everyone I mentioned the book to, owned a copy. Never having done book tours, nor having received any reports of sales, I had no idea…
Heartfelt wishes are extended here to String or Nothing’s large readership in Japan. I hope everyone’s family and friends are safe in the wake of the earthquake and tsunami.
If folk elsewhere wish to assist, please consider donating to the relief effort.
O.k., so it’s not knitting. But String today celebrates Ada Lovelace Day, and takes part in a meta-project to honor women in technology, science and engineering worldwide on Tuesday 24 March. Although I’m non-of-the-above myself, I supposed if I had more support in advanced math, I’d have made it. But I didn’t and ended up a proposal writer – interpreting between the worlds of the engineer and the decision maker. So it goes.
It happens that the very first proposal I worked on was a series of grants for New York Institute of Technology to establish a pipeline program, providing tutors and other assistance to girls and minority students starting in fifth grade, with the goal of piquing then maintaining their interest and abiltiy in math and science. After completion of the program those students were pre-admitted to NYIT. I have no idea how many kids that program helped, but by my estimate the first group of them should be ten or so years out of college by now (fewer if they went on to grad school). Perhaps they’re fueling a quiet revolution in biotechnology or advanced computing somewhere.
In any case, on to the point.
A good place to start is the Smithsonian’s Women in Science gallery. Sure, it’s got pix of Marie Curie, of whom everyone has heard. But it also has pix of many women engineers, scientists, and science educators who are not as well known, but who should be.
I choose to honor Annie Jump Canon (1863-1941), luminary in astronomical research and stellar classification. Although living in a time deeply ambivalent (if not hostile) to advanced education for women, and suffering from profound hearing impairment after a teenage bout with scarlet fever Annie graduated from Wellsely College in 1884 with a degree in physics. She returned there for graduate studies in physics and astronomy, eventually gaining an MA in 1907. During her time at Wellsley she was hired by the Harvard College Observatory, and along with several other women, paid a pittance (less than a Harvard secretary) to assist Edward Pickering to compile the Draper Catalog, a massive, annotated atlas of all the stars in the sky.
While she was part of this project (itsef funded by Anna Draper, a wealthy widow of an amateur astronomer), Annie was instrumental in defining the spectral classification system, which defines the star classes O, B, F, G, K, and M – a system based on stellar temperature that along with later enhancements is still used today. Annie’s personal work included extensive cataloging of variable stars, including 300 for which she is credited as discoverer, and classifying over 230,000 stellar bodies, the most anyone has defined to this day.
I close with a quotation from her:
“In our troubled days it is good to have something outside our planet, something fine and distant for comfort.”
Annie, shine on!