Voided work is a catch-all term for a family of embroideries where the background is covered by stitching, and voids in that solid stitching make up the motifs (the foreground). Sometimes the foreground is further ornamented by additional stitching, sometimes not. There are many different styles of this work, lots of posited points of origin/provenance, and just as many design or pattern groupings that have come and gone in and out of style over the centuries that voided work has been done. While modern Assisi (simplified motifs done with cross-stitch backgrounds) is the form of voided work most widely known today, it’s not the only type, and there is a lot to explore in the allied family of voided styles.
Here’s one subgroup – Story Panels. This is a family of works that I’ve run across as I’ve researched counted voided styles, that hangs together as a subset based on a number of commonalities.
First, the examples:
l. From the Cooper-Hewitt collection, Band. Italy, 16th–18th century; silk on linen; H x W: 24.1 x 172.1 cm (9 1/2 x 67 3/4 in.); Gift of Richard C. Greenleaf; 1954-167-5. These four panels show elements of the Adam and Eve story, and the workaday life after Eden . It’s done in red silk on linen, with a densely overworked meshy background. I don’t necessarily agree that it’s long armed cross stitch – that has a different look of directionality. This has more of a meshy appearance. Foregrounds are outlined (back stitch according to the listing), and ornamented by knot stitches.
2. From the Art Institute of Chicago, Fragment (from a border), Italy, 1575-1625, silk on linen. 22.8 x 41.4 cm (9 x 16 3/8 in.); Art Institute of Chicago Purchase Fund; 1907.827 Part of the story of Noah. Outlined foreground elements with spot decoration, ground in long armed cross stitch aka LACS (that back and forth almost plaited looking directonality is evident.)
3. Another from the Art Institute of Chicago. Fragment (from a border) Italy, 1575-1625, silk on linen, 19 x 40.6 cm (7 1/2 x 16 in.); Art Institute of Chicago Purchase Fund; 1907.826. Joseph and his brothers. This may or may not be part of the same original (or series of originals) as #2, above. Similar color, and LACS technique, but the heights are different, and the motifs are simpler in this one – less ornamented, less detailed.
4. And also from The Art Institute of Chicago, Fragment (from a border), Italy, 1575-1625, Linen with silk. 276 x 44.2 cm (10 7/8 x 17 3/8 in.), Art Institute of Chicago Purchase Fund; 1907.825. To my eye based on these photos, it looks like this panel (Joseph and Potiphar’s wife?) is done the same way as #4, above.
5. From the Cleveland Art Museum, Embroidered Border: The Baking of Unleavened Bread, Italy 16th-17th century. Silk on linen. 18.1×45.4cm (7 1/8 x 17 7/8 in.) Gift of the Textile Arts Club; 1939.354. From Probably LACS (no prominent holes like the meshy style). Foreground lightly outlined with what looks to be a thinner thread, foreground details in back or double running. No knot stitches. I’ve discussed the group of four panels from which this comes once before.
6. From the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Strip, Italy, 16th century, silk on linen, 9 1/8 x 25 in (23.2 x 63.5cm), Gift of Mrs. Harry Ge Friedman; 48.57. I’m guessing from the inscription that this is part of the Joseph in Egypt narrative, where he has dealings with his half-brother Simon. Again, probably long armed cross stitch, with either double running or back stitch outlines of the voids.
7. Also from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Panel with Noah’s Ark. Italy, late 16th/early 17th century. Silk on linen. 14 1/4 x 39 1/4 in. (36.2 x 99.7 cm) with lace. Robert Lehman Collection, 1975.11784. Another Noah’s Ark. Note that the base drawing of the ark section is very, very close to the green one, although the follow on panel is different.
8. Still more. From the Cooper-Hewitt, Band, Italy, Late 16th, early 17th century, linen, silk; H x W: 150 x 19 cm (59 1/16 x 7 1/2 in.); 1950-29-8. The center panel is probably David avoiding Saul’s spear, but the rest of the iconography is hazy and there’s no top line inscription to help. Very clearly long armed cross stitch, possibly double running on the outlines (there are also a few later repairs done using another color, to reunite the stitched ground with the open foreground but that doesn’t count).
9. From the Cooper Hewitt, Band, Italy. Late 16th, early 17th century. silk embroidery on linen foundation; H x W: 23.5 x 60.6 cm (9 1/4 x 23 7/8 in.); Bequest of Richard Cranch Greenleaf in memory of his mother, Adeline Emma Greenleaf; 1962-52-1. This one doesn’t have lettering at the top, but it’s clearly the story of Isaac. LACS, outlined foreground, some ornamentation of foreground with straight stitches (possibly double running or back stitch).
10. And finally, from the Yale University Art Gallery, Unknown Fragment, Italy, 17th century. Linen ground with red silk, 19.1 x 43.2 cm (7.5 x 17 inches), Gift of Howard L. Goodhart; 1928.151. Very had to tell from the photo but it’s probably LACS, with double running or back stitch for the lines. This bit is probably Jonah and the whale, and is clearly part of a multi-panel piece (or once was).
Now, I am sure there are lots more of these out there, that I haven’t included here. And there are narrative panels done in other stitched styles, but these do seem to hang together, more or less.
First, unlike most (but not all) other voided work examples, they display no symmetry. There are no reflection or bounce points; the designs are not aligned in balance around center urns, trees, or other elements. Each one of these panels stands alone, without a clear repeat inside its sequence.
Second, most (but not all of them) rely on similar framing techniques – a narrative with a very similar looking style of letter representation on top, and the curious mix of birds, dogs, and leaf/branch/flower elements below (which does repeat).
Third, none of these were done on the count. By that I mean that the foreground elements were not carefully copied from a graphed source. They incorporate strange angles and curves, and the ground stitching behind them – which was done on the count – looks to have been “mashed in” around the designs where they present those odd curves and angles.
I posit that these were hand drawn onto the cloth, overstitched using double running or back stitch (or possibly even SINGLE running in some cases); the foreground ornament was done, and then the backgrounds were stitched, in neat lines going back and forth across the cloth. BUT it’s pretty clear that some sort of common cartoon (in the tapestry sense) was used for the two Noah’s Ark panels – #2 and #7. Same ship, same placement of birds, bit players and leaves around it, but with just enough difference of detail and odd angles to look like tracings from the same original, not copies of the same chart.
Fourth, for #1-8 above, there are clear divisions into panels, with strangely familiar fat-fruited, full-leaved vegetation or ruled dividers separating the scenes.
Fifth, all appear to be Old Testament scenes. Given the time and place, it’s kind of strange that no large scale New Testament scenes are included. Now those may exist elsewhere, I don’t claim to have gathered a definitive collection of these fragments, but one would think that there would be a Last Supper, Passion or stray Saint among the lot. The closest we get is the Agnus Dei (lamb with cross standard) in the Jonah panel – #10, and even that is background – not the “featured scene.” It’s also worth noting that even with the popularity of Greek/Roman myth images at the time (just look at emblem books and early pattern books) – we’ve got no Aphrodites, Sieges of Troy, or other mythic representations.
Now, what conclusions can we draw from all this? Sadly very few without further research.
Who made these and why? I am tempted to say there was a small number of professional ateliers producing these in late 16th century Italy, due to the strong similarities of style, and the fact that these examples are relatively few among the large number of other voided work fragments we have today. Given the elaborate nature of the non-repeats and the scale of these sequential multi-panel narratives, I somehow doubt that these were loving-hands-at-home works created for household use.
Many of those other bits are probably domestic works – with designs that are symmetrical, with clear easy to replicate repeats. While it’s certainly possible that these panels were bed or other secular hangings, but I think it is more likely they were made for liturgical/didactic use.
And #9 and #10 – the odd outliers? I think they were clearly influenced by the group as a whole, but given the difference in their visual styles and details, I would not be surprised to find out they were done a bit later – or possibly even by competing contemporary workshops – in emulation of the established style.
Have you found other examples of these stitched comic books (biblical or not)? Share!
Readers have most graciously pointed out additional examples! Thank you – keep them coming
11. Holly found this in The Jewish Museum in New York, Embroidered Panel: The Story of David and Bathsheba. Greece, 19th century. Silk on linen. 10.5 x 29 inches (26.7 x 73.7cm). From the H. Ephriam and Mordecai Benguiat Family Collection, Accession S 202. The date and provenance are different from the rest, but it does appear to have some stylistic commonality with #8, above.
12. Melinda Sherbring alerts us to a holding in the Los Angeles Museum of Art, Embroidered Textile Panel Depicting Scenes from Genesis. Iberian Peninsula (Spain or Portugal), late 16th century. Linen plain weave with silk embroidery. (a): 9 7/8 × 64 1/4 in. (25.08 × 163.2 cm); (b): 35 3/4 × 9 5/8 in. (90.81 × 24.45 cm) Costume Council Fund (M.87.230a-b) . Sadly, there is no shared image available there, but from her detailed descriptions, it’s another version of the Adam and Eve panel (second panel in #1, above), and the Ark panel (#2 and 7 above), done in long armed cross stitch, in red silk. The foreground ornament of both is a bit simplified compared to the other versions posted here.
Melinda and her co-conspirator in textile history high-jinks, Robin Berry, had the opportunity to examine the piece up close. They have given me permission to share their notes on technique:
- Fabric thread count approximately 96 tpi.
- Embroidery floss is filament silk, finer than a single strand of Eterna; possibly Kreinik size 0.
- Motif colors: background color card 19-12 and 19-11 for Genesis, approximately DMC 3687.
- Technique: long armed cross stitch background with backstitch for details and outlines. Looks like the same thread was used for background and for details. Stitches over 3 threads, approximately 18 stitches per inch.
- There are holes along the edges clearly where fabric was nailed or tacked to a support.
Robin additionally points out that voided works with Iberian origins are properly termed “Reserve.”
Melinda agrees with me that the base layout of these pieces were probably traced or drawn rather than established by count. Having three examples of such a work is quite special.
This post is a largely a capture of material I put up on Facebook. Given the difficulty of finding past material on that platform, and that some of my stitching friends avoid Facebook entirely, I add it here. Note that the attributions on these pieces were current as of today – 7 November 2019. If I see that they change, I’ll update this note.
…..Ah, the consistency of museum dating on embroidered artifacts. Here we see two separate accessions, held by the same institution, that present a minor conundrum.
The one on top is Cooper Hewitt Accession 1971-50-86, and is labeled Band (Italy), 17th century. It was a gift by the noted textile curator and collector, Marian Hague (a personal hero of mine). Probably a legacy upon her passing, or part of her personal collection, donated by a later family member.
The one below is Cooper Hewitt Accession 1944-71-5. It’s labled Band (Italy), 16th century. It was given to the museum by Annie-May Hegeman, in 1944. Ms. Hegeman appears to have been a very wealthy individual, from a wealthy family. She collected and displayed many artifacts in her own famous home, and donated many to various museums over a period of decades.
Not only are these two the same design (which I’m graphing up), they are undeniably fragments of the same artifact – yet another example of the “Separated at Birth/Long-Lost Twins” circumstance. You can piece the one below to the right of the one on top, and achieve continuity.
Why the 100 year difference between the two? Different catalogers? Based on updated scholarship? Unknown. Which is correct? Good question. Perhaps detailed analysis of dye chemistry might give a clue, but for these fragment collections – laid down and rarely revisited – it’s not going to happen any time soon.
I’ve long struggled with how to render a heraldic rose in a linear charting. Because of the angles involved in five-fold symmetry, it does not lend itself cleanly to the 45°, 90°, 180° schema that I have found to be almost exclusively used in historical counted styles. (In fact, the only exception to the 45-90-180 rule I’ve seen are designs that include an “eyelet” – where stitches are taken around the periphery of a small area, with one terminus in that circle or square’s center – and those are quite rare.) To manage the angles properly under this constraint would necessitate a very large chart, so that the angles could be fudged slowly over long runs.
But many people over the years have asked about a SMALL graphed-up rose. And just this week I had an extra incentive to work one up.
Duchess Kiena of the East Kingdom (an SCA branch centered on the upper northeast coastal region of the US, and into adjacent areas of Canada) has been doodling up roses as visual gifts/potential ornamental badges for her fellow members of the Order of the Rose (former consorts/co-regnants of those who have won the Eastern Crown.) Her roses are a joy – simple and adorable. Here’s the one she did for me – echoic of my own black rose:
She’s done an entire garden of these so far. They are sweet, and have been adopted by some the recipients for use as avatars on social media. I wanted to return a gift in kind. I also know that some folks may want to embroider these roses, either for themselves or as a gift, so I doodled up a graph based on Kiena’s original outlines.
Note that it includes non-standard “Knights Move” stitches, taken over 2 x 1 units. I’ve marked those in red as an aid to navigation. Not strictly historical, I know, but effective at this small scale.
Feel free to use this as you will. Fills are limited only by your own imagination – the counted/damask fills of blackwork, satin stitch, split stitch or chain, applique, beading – anything goes. Enjoy, and feel free to share your results.
Satin stitch (for me at least) is sllloooowwwww. Especially compared with double running. Even though I am not working the satin stitch on count, the degree of precision needed to do the gold, cranberry, and white bits is even greater than the counted green outlines.
That said, progress is being made:
This is the center of the piece. I’m not entirely happy with every leaf or bud part done in satin, but I am not at this point going to go back and take anything out. What is, is. And for the record, as wobbly and multi-directional as my stitching is, that on the historical piece I have used as my inspiration is about as weak as mine.
But am learning as I go, and things are evening out a mite.
First was finding a better needle. It was pretty clear that the blunt tip/small eyed needles I favor for the outlines are not optimal for satin stitch. First, the eye that’s good for two strands of well-waxed floss is too small for three strands of unwaxed. And that rounded point, so well suited for slipping between threads for double running, is useless for piercing ground cloth threads to make nice, neat satin edges – even if those edges are partially “buried” underneath the outlines. I am not sure what size needle I am using (I pulled it from among a bunch of loose ones in my needle case), but it’s a standard larger eye embroidery sharp – not a tapestry needle.
Second was better threading. I am spoiled by waxing the living daylights out of my double running threads. Even if the two strands I use for the outlines require a tiny snip to get a good “point”, waxing guarantees a stiff, thin, easy to mount threading end. Not so the loose flossy strands of this ultra skinny silky stuff, used in threes or fours unwaxed for the satin stitching. They are unruly, prone to separating, fluffing out at the cut end, and otherwise uncooperative. Sometimes in a fit of desperation, I do wax the last half inch, but I prefer not to do that because the wax does drag off and mat down the rest of the strand. So I went looking for needle threaders to help. Thanks to Mary Corbet’s blog, I found some nifty tools, one of which I didn’t know I needed.
To start with, prior to making any purchases, I wanted to corral my needles, because for the first time ever, I was using multiple needle types on the same piece, and the pincushion at my elbow kept skittering off. I rummaged through my box of Useful Things, and came up with two flat rare earth magnets – formerly the insides of two heavy duty magnetic hooks. I’d saved them when the hook parts died. I glued them onto the verticals of my Millenium, in the corners. That worked nicely to keep my needles at hand, yet out of the way.
Now came threading. Obviously a needle threader would be required to cut down on my swearing and frustration. Mary had recommended some from Puffin. I liked the look of them from the structural standpoint, with flat hook style business ends, and not wire loops. So I ordered two in whimsical shapes vaguely reminiscent of Elizabethan coif motifs. One regular size, one small.
The snail with the larger hook works like a dream with the standard larger-eye embroidery needle. The bee with the little stinger surprised me by actually working with my tiny-eye ball-tip needles. Both are magnet-enabled, and now perch on the magnet I glued onto my frame.
And the needles they displaced? This is the thing I didn’t know I needed. Looking back, I could have done something similar with my two plain recycled magnets, but I never thought of it…
I got one of the Puffin needle-keepers.
This is the pretty side of the thing. It is also magnet-enabled, and the two magnets are quite strong. So strong in fact that they grasp and hold together not only through my cloth, but also through multiple folds of my pattern page printouts. So my design pages now sit neatly next to the area being stitched – not on a separate stand, or balanced awkwardly on a cushion nearby. My alternate needles are firmly fixed in place on the flower’s center, while my needle minder does its double-duty holding the pattern.
Here you see the corner of my frame in its stand-clamp, showing off the needle minder (left), and the glued-on magnet with both threaders (right). Everything to hand.
Please note I accept no freebies and make no endorsement deals. And since I don’t indulge myself often, tiny advances in kit are really special.
I’m a happy camper, even in the face of all that satin stitching. Bravo, Puffin! Useful tools, nicely made.
Two weekends past The Resident Male and I went to an SCA event, a local one held here in the greater Boston metro area – known within the group as the Barony of Carolingia. We went to honor a worthy friend as she received a well-deserved high award. Sadly, we got there just in time for heavy rain, so our movements were rather constrained, and we did not find many of our old friends. But we did get to chat with several folks.
I brought my latest embroidery in a carrying case I made for an older frame and project, probably circa 1993. While my fancy leaves project was well received, the plain and boring cloth carrying case that was keeping it safe and clean hogged the majority of the attention.
Now, I never thought of that case as something special, and I did blog about it long, long ago (a post that now appears to have been eaten by Internet Gremlins). But apparently it is something that people really would like to have. So I write about it again, to the best of my recollection.
Here’s the cover, shown with the old scrolling/laced frame for which it was designed. Note that although my cover was made for adjustable scrolling frames with protruding parts that stick out in the corners, this could work just as well for a rectangular or square non-adjustable slate frame
And here is the same cover used with my new wider Millennium frame, showing how the piece wraps and holds itself in place without closures or fasteners even on the too-big-for-it frame. We are looking at the inside of the cover. The handle is on the outside, mounted on the long flap at the opposite end from the slit.
In the best of all possible worlds, I would make a second cover, wide enough to protect the side bars of my new frame. But in truth, because lacing isn’t necessary with the Millenium, nine times out of ten, if I want to carry it I just release tension, remove the stretcher bars, and leaving the work on the horizontals, wrap the whole thing up in an old tea-cloth size tablecloth, skipping the carrying case altogether. But for the event weekend event I knew I would often be moving from place to place, and didn’t want to do reassembly each time I wanted to stitch or display my work-in-progress.
I used well washed and savagely preshrunk white 100% cotton duck (a tightly woven twill fabric a bit lighter than denim), but anything sturdy can be used – one of the lighter weight canvases in cotton or linen, for example. I picked white to minimize the chance of color crocking onto my framed work. The adventurous might want to use a showy fabric for the outside public side of the long center strip, and something else on the inside that comes in contact with the stitching. I didn’t want to do that because I didn’t want to deal with differential rates of shrinkage, or dual laundering requirements.
I can’t tell you how much yardage to buy, but note that ALL pieces of this are doubled, except for the handle, which was a rectangle, folded to make many layers, then topstitched. A length cut from a heavy martial arts belt from a karate or judo/aikido gi would work just as well as my improvised handle. Savagely pre-shrink any repurposed belt prior to stitching. (If you know someone who practices, chances are that he or she has a whole bag of leftovers, because most new uniforms come complete with yet another white belt.)
Note that there are NO fasteners on the case, of any kind. The only thing that holds it together is the insertion of the handle into the slit in the front flap. I did this on purpose – I didn’t want to risk snagging my embroidery, or any corrosion of metal parts and subsequent staining if the case happened to get damp. As is, my case can be thrown in the washing machine and laundered on hot, then machine dried without worry.
Here’s a schematic. Apologies for drafting it upside down compared to the photos above:
Note that all measurements on the schematic above should be adjusted to include seam allowances (for example, approximate height of stretchers + (2x desired seam allowance). All measurements are taken OUTSIDE the frame – measuring the working area plus the width of the wooden components assembled in the configuration in which you will be working. Don’t worry about any bits on the corners, they can stick out, like they do on mine.
The “shoulder flap” rectangles should be generous, they need significant overlap to stay in place.
The handle is positioned at the red rectangle, roughly the height of stretcher bar, as measured from the spot where the “shoulder flaps” join the center strip.
The black rectangle is the slit, and is cut and edged after the piece is assembled, positioning it to accommodate the handle. I topstitch/zig-zagged around mine, not taking special care to finish the edge with great precision.
Measuring and cutting:
- Determine the measurements of your target frame (how tall, how wide).
- Sizing the long piece: About 3.75 to 4 times your frame’s height plus seam allowances. That will give enough extra for the tuck part on the handle side, and the front flap that hangs below the slit. It’s width should be the approximate width of your stretchers, plus seam allowances all the way around. Cut 2.
- Sizing the side flaps: Approximately the height and width of your frame plus seam allowances all the way around. Cut 4.
- Sizing the handle. I used a piece of the same fabric, a square of about 12 inches (roughly 30.5 cm) I folded it in half and ironed it, then folded the left and right ends in to meet at the center, ironed it; and repeated – finally folding the entire piece down the center line to encapsulate the layers. Once I had my multilayer strip, I topstitched it the long way, as indicated below, and zig-zagged the short ends rather severely to prevent fraying. I ended up with a heavy, belt-like strip that was about 12 inches long and about 1.5 inches wide (30.5cm x 3.8cm). Precision is optional here – longer or wider/narrower won’t matter much, but I’d avoid making the strip shorter. And you can see why I recommend recycling a martial arts belt instead of fiddling with this part.
You should now have two long strips of fabric, and four smaller units to make the side flaps, plus your handle.
- Lay your long strips down and mark a point on each long side, approximately half of your frame’s height down from one end. Then lay your frame on the strip, aligning the top to the marks you just made, and make a second mark indicating its height
- Sew the side flaps to the long strip, positioning them on the marks (and taking seam allowance into consideration).
- You now have two roughly cross-shaped units, with the side flaps placed such that there’s a “long end” of the center strip, and a “short end”. The short ends will become the front flap.
- Place right sides together, and sew them together all the way around the outside, leaving about 6 inches unsewn so you can turn the piece inside out, capturing all of the seam allowances inside. Do so, teasing out the corners with a knitting needle, skewer, ruler, or dowel. Iron the thing and sew the turning hole closed.
- Up to now, if you used only one fabric for the whole piece, it hasn’t mattered which was the public side and which was the inside of the cover. Pick your favorite side to be the public side/outside.
- On the public side on the “long end” measure down roughly half of the height of your frame and make a mark. Then take your frame, and position it as if you were going to wrap it as I show above. Confirm that the mark is the correct place for the handle to be (it will ride on the top edge of your frame in carrying position). Centering the handle left to right on the “long end” of your strip, sew it to the public side. You might want to leave a little slack as you do so (rather than stitching it on absolutely flat) so that the handle loops up neatly when used.
- Try the cover on your frame. Note where the slit to accommodate the handle needs to be cut. Draw a line here. Take the piece back to the sewing machine and sew around the line several times as reinforcement (you could also zigzag, edge stitch or otherwise finish the area to be slit). Once you are satisfied that the reinforcement is sufficient, use a razor or knife to cut the slit itself.
- You are done. Put the thing on your work-in-progress and admire that your dressed frame is now additionally dressed, warm and safe for transit.
About the only structural element to improve upon the base design would be to stitch some kind of stiffener – possibly another length of the same folded fabric or judo gi belt underneath and parallel to the handle. That reinforcement should be wide enough to stretch clear across the entire width of the cover at that point. The reason is that my handle does pull up through the slit after extended carrying, especially when I use the case for frames different in size than the one for which it was designed.
If I were to make a new case, I might also include a “built in” needle book or pouch on one of the flaps, for convenience. But I am still loathe to add fasteners to the piece, so I’d have to figure out a secure closure that avoids velcro, snaps, zippers, or buttons. Perhaps tied lacings…
Also, I never embellished or embroidered my case. I suppose that I should have (at the very least) put my name on it. If you do decide to ornament the outside of yours, I would suggest selecting hard-wash-compatible threads, and doing any stitching on the pieces, prior to assembly.
If you make a carrying case like mine, please feel free to send pix – especially if you personalize it or improve on my meager design. Your photos will help others as they contemplate making one of their own.
Questions about my current project are popping in. I’ll try to answer the ones so far. Feel free to send more.
First, a progress shot:
As you can see, I’ve established the border on the second long side of the piece. I still have not decided on whether or not there will be wide borders along the short sides. That decision probably won’t occur until I have to advance the piece on the rollers of my roller frame. Right now the ground cloth’s center is (more or less) at the center of the exposed working area.
On to the questions.
How do you get the design onto the fabric?
I don’t. This is a counted style. I have a paper pattern that shows my repeat, graphed up into a grid. I look at that, then replicate the design on my cloth, using each group of 2×2 threads as my graph grid. It’s just a matter of looking left, seeing “Five stitches in line straight, then one diagonal to the left, then three straight left,” and stitching it.
As I work I constantly check back and forth to make sure that the newly stitched pieces are on target – true to the count of the design. To do that I tend not to work out on a long lead. I try to work adjacent areas so I can check them against each other as I go. For example on this design, I’ll confirm that the ed
My teacher told me that I always need to baste in an even grid before I start a large charted project. Why haven’t you done that?
Because I don’t need to. I do have basted lines that indicate the edges and center point of the area I will be stitching, but I tease them out and clip them as I go along to keep them out of my way. I’ve never used a fully gridded ground with guidelines basted in every ten or twenty stitches apart. I’m comfortable working that way, although I know that others need more alignment aids than I do.
Will you be making this available as a chart or kit?
Not as such. This leafy design will be included in my (ever) forthcoming book, The Second Carolingian Modelbook. (News of that book’s publication will be here on String first). But I won’t be issuing a project chart or kit for this piece.
What thread are you using?
I’m using the vintage “art silk” floss I bought in India. I wish it were real silk, but we do with what we have. One nice thing about it – it’s very fine, and presents much like finger spun if stitched closely.
For the green double-running stitch, I am using two strands of this floss, heavily waxed. For the satin stitch, I am using three strands, unwaxed. The stuff is a bit unruly, and keeping the satin stitch even and smooth is much harder than establishing the design in double running.
What’s the count of your ground?
It’s an 40-count evenweave 100% linen, stash aged. I’m not sure where/when I got it, but I dug it out from the bottom of the pile, so it wasn’t a recent purchase. I’m working over 2×2 threads, so that works out to about 20 stitches per inch. But I think there’s a minute variance in count north-south vs. east-west, so it’s probably more like 20 spi x 19.5 spi.
What will this be when you are done?
A monument to the time it took to stitch.
Seriously, while I had originally thought it would make a nifty pillow for our sofa, complementing the room’s colors and being a different finishing treatment from yet-another-wall-hanging. However, I’ve decided against that. The art silk in satin stitch is too friable, prone to snags and catches. The thought of throwing myself on the sofa and having the rivets of my jeans play havoc with those shiny, smooth bits is a harsh reality check. This will probably end up on my walls, like so many of my other pieces.
Another in my occasional series of posts only a stitching nerd will love.
This base design I present here is among the patterns that have long fascinated me. It comes from a time of political and religious conflict, and exists in two versions – one with a devotional inscription, and one plain – with the motto removed.
It’s pretty widespread as pattern books go, appearing in several. There is also at least one actual stitched artifact of it in one of its variants
First, to look at the pattern as (and where) it was published.
All three modelbook pages of this first group are quoted from Mistress Kathryn Goodwyn’s most excellent Flowers of the Needle collection of modelbook redactions. It’s pretty obvious that the 1537 Zoppino (Venice) and 1567 Ostaeus (Rome) versions were both printed from the same block – the same pattern errors exist on both impressions.
Now for the third – this one was published in 1546, in a book attributed to Domenico daSera, who worked in Lyons, France.
It’s clearly the same design, but carved anew into a different block. The framing mechanism of the twisted columns and chains remains, as does the frondy onion-shaped center motif and the majority of its details. More or less. Obviously the religious motif is new, as is the inclusion of more prominent crosses. But the design is still recognizable.
Going back and forth in time, here’s that same Zoppino block, from his Convivo delle Belle Donne, from August 1532, courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art (Accession 22.66.6) This is the earliest hard-dated rendition of this design that I know of.
It’s also interesting to note that the same block was collected into Hippolyte Cocheris’ 1872 collection Patrons de Broderie et de lingerie du XVIe Siecle which is itself a reprint of several 16th century works. I suspect that a different block may have been involved, because although the copy is almost perfect there are minute mistakes on the Zoppino original that are not replicated in this iteration.
And on to artifacts.
First, here is a clear rendition of the da Sera devotional version. The picture below is shamelessly lifted from the Harvard Art Museum’s holdings page, of their object accession number 1916.379, cited as Italian, but not dated.
Note that the inscriptions switch direction, and not necessarily in a logical manner. I strongly suspect that the stitching is truly double-sided, and the intent was to produce something that could be read from both sides. Either that or the embroiderer was quite forgetful, and neglected to keep track of the front and back. Once the error was established, he or she just kept going.
As an aside, the edging is from Jean Troveon’s 1533 work, Patrons de diverse manieres. It’s also in his other work, La fleur des patrons de lingerie (dated 1533 at the latest) , which we will see again in a moment.
Headed a bit further afield is this example is a first cousin of the design above. The sample below is from the Boston Museum of Fine Arts. It’s got many of the same design elements, but they’ve been simplified and abstracted. We’ve lost the twisty columns, but kept the chain dividers, and the center foliage/flower has been much simplified. This piece is dated to the 16th century, as Italian. MFA Accession 90.50. It’s one of the pieces labeled with the mystery technique “Punto di Milano” which in this case looks like tightly overstitched Italian four-sided stitch, pulled to achieve a meshy look. Oh, with cross stitch accents.
But did someone take the twisty columns design and adapt it? Nope.
Troveon, in La fleur des patrons de lingerie has this one, with the minor exception of using initials in the shields instead of the anonymous sunbursts.
And what else shall we find in Troveon’s soft-dated work? Our old friend, (which based on a close look at block mistakes, I can’t for certain cite as the Hippolyte source.)
Now. We have a few questions.
- How did the border design that appears only a few pages away from the secular version of this design, in the Troveon book get paired with the devotional main motif from daSera?
- Which plate came first? Troveon’s not-dated-in-stone version (1533 latest), or the Zoppino from 1532? Are they printed from the same block or not?
- Why did the design exist and circulate in the two forms?
The places where the secular version appears (Rome, and Venice) were not break-away hotbeds of Protestantism. I would have thought given the tenor of the times (which included the destruction of vast amounts of religious embroidery) the secular version would have been found in the religiously rebellious areas. When I started looking into this my suspicion was that having two versions of this design was an early example of targeted marketing – selling what would appeal to a local demographic. But I can’t substantiate that theory based on place of publication.
The relative order of publication? Again, I can’t hazard a guess. Unless the Bibliothèque Nationale de France refines its listing (or another hard-dated copy of the work surfaces) we are stuck with the uncertainty.
So your guesses are as good as mine. Yet more topics I offer up to anyone doing gradate research in historical embroidery.
Oh. One final aside. Both the secular version of this design and the border from Troveon are graphed up in my first collection The New Carolingian Modelbook.
I did not plan to stitch this piece of crimson and gold leaves as a tribute to Fall, but it’s starting to look that way.
I’m munching along on both the repeat and the border. But being a tad lazy, I’ve been concentrating on the easy-to-do double running, and not on the high-concentration-to-achieve satin stitch. (I envy those who walk through satin stitch and make it look so simple).
This segment is about 65% as wide as the finished piece will be. The center diagonal branches will stretch a bit further to the left, possibly one or one and a half more iterations of the repeat. There will also be a companion border on that edge. I am still deciding whether or not I will add borders to the ends now captive on my frame’s rollers, or whether I will just finish out the design either truncated, or with the narrow diagonal trim, but without the accompanying outer leaves. Lots depends on what this will end up being. That decision is also still up in the air. Pillow? Framed piece? Soft-finished scroll hanging? I haven’t a clue. Not yet, anyway.
In any case, the double running is not presenting a problem. The design is pretty straightforward. Each side of the branch is its own baseline. The only tricky bit is placing the branch sides at the right spot. To do that, I have been using a point where the leaves approach each other closest. That’s the spot with the little “thumb” that sticks out and waves at its counterpart.
I work the next branch side by counting over from the established bit, then proofing my work as I go against other previously stitched areas. Yes, I do make mistakes, but by and large, once I have the pattern down – in this case mostly memorized after so many repeats, counting mistakes are rare.
Much more common is an annoyance of working with one hand in front and the other behind, and blind. Try as I may, I still catch and stitch through my working thread as I push the needle back up from the unseen side to the front. While waxing does help a bit for the double running sections, I still have to stop and de-tangle my stitching thread, often sacrificing a bit to the resulting fray. And it’s worse for the satin stitch areas because those can’t be waxed at all. Not and preserve that lovely sheen.
Since I have only a limited quantity of the thread I am using – more of the vintage “art silk” I bought in India – every inch lost to fraying is heartbreaking. In fact I am working compartmentalized so that I can terminate early, just in case running out of thread becomes all too real.
I continue on the Italian Renaissance leafy multicolor piece.
The skewed weave you may see is an artifact of image compression, and is not indicative of the appearance of the ground cloth.
Originally I had thought to do yet another sampler cloth, with lots of designs grouped rather willy-nilly, but I have changed my mind. The look of this particular ground is so striking that I want to do a larger example of it. I also have a companion edging for this all-over that I’m itching to apply. Right now I’m leaning towards a large rectangular piece, surrounded by that edging, possibly using some surface work in gold thread for added bling. I’m not sure what the finish will be, but I am considering making this into a pillow, which is one of the possible original uses for a design of this type.
Along the way I am re-learning the delights of Satin Stitch. It never was one of my faves, but the play of light using the faux silk thread can’t be beat. The deep green I’m using for the counted outlines in double running is waxed, but the satin stitch in-fillings are not in order to maximize sheen. And no – I’m not going to stitch every area in every leaf. I’m going to leave the piece partially filled in as it is above. That’s more or less along the lines of the original, but possibly leaving a bit more unfilled. The decision on working the red on the other half of each large leaf is still being made. On one hand it would look interesting, but on the other hand, so much red would overpower the rest of the stitching. Opinions are solicited here.
I’ve also learned the hard way how NOT to handle the multicolor fill on the branch. Originally I had done it as multiple rows of one-unit tall satin stitch, vertically. That broke up the color too much, so I picked that out and re-did it wider, but with the color broken up by the little bits of cross hatching on the sides of the stem. I am not entirely pleased, in part due to clumsy execution of the first. Working that bit horizontally is right out, both for fidelity to the original reasons, and due to the breadth and spread of those areas. I may need to explore threading my satin stitches underneath some of the crosshatches. Or just learning to do them more neatly…
The current plan is to work up the rest of the area inside this hoop, and then transfer the piece to my big flat frame. The thought of hooping over all that satin stitch brings the visceral feel of fingernails on a chalk board.
OK. Fresh off Cupids, I begin another haphazardly planned piece. As I start this write-up, I have no clear idea as to what I might be doing. But I do know how to start.
I’ve taken a piece of linen from my stash – it’s probably around 40 tpi – and I’ve hemmed it on three sides. The last side is selvedge and I am lazy.
I have also used regular sewing thread to mark out my absolute edges, and the centerlines. I hesitate to say horizontal and vertical because at this point I am not sure which orientation I will use. Note that I have not gridded the entire piece, nor are my basted guidelines done on any sort of regular count (other than following a specific line across the entire cloth).
Now on to think about threads. I’m tired of the DMC cotton I’ve been using. I still have some significant quantities of the faux silk I bought in India. My color selection is more limited, but there are several that remain in multi skein hanks. I’ve picked out some of these in deep forest, a burgundy, a gold, and an off-white/silvery. Polychrome!
Now on to the design itself. And observations on a design cluster.
I’m basing this one (at least in part) on an artifact on the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Accession 1894-30-114. The image below is cribbed from their site.
It’s a curious piece, not only because of the use of multicolors, but also because of the clearly counted linear outlines plus the satin stitch fills. Here’s my color-change start:
I haven’t done one of these multicolor, filled pieces yet, and I’m interested to see how I can gild this particular lily. In true bungee-jump stitching style I am not sure if I will fill out the entire cloth with this design, or if I will just do it as a center, then edge it around with other concoctions. Time (and thread availability) will tell.
Now as to why I think this one is part of a design cluster.
While I note that the dating for the Philadelphia Museum snippet is a bit odd (they claim 14th century, which to me is way too early), this piece has significant family resemblance to several other artifacts. One is the center panel of my Stupid Cupid sampler. Both it and the one I’m working now will be in The Second Carolingian Modelbook.
Here’s another sample of a similar design. This bit is from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Accession 79.1.14, along with my stitched rendition of the a very similar design as presented in Pauline Johnstone’s Three Hundred Years of Embroidery, Wakefield Press, 1986, on page 17. My bit is in red at the right. I included the chart for my version in The New Carolingian Modelbook.
UPDATE: The sample in Ms. Johnstone’s book (shown below) is a holding of the Embroiderer’s Guild, #5376. It looks like it and the Met fragments are more long-lost siblings. It’s stitch for stitch identical in every detail to the Met piece.
We have a clear provenance with the Jewish Museum’s piece. It’s dated with a reference to the Jewish calendar year 5343, which puts it at 1582/1583 on the standard Western calendar, and it’s from a congregation in Rome. The lady Honorata Foa either commissioned it or made it herself for donation to that congregation. I’ve written about it before.
The Met’s sample is “Italian, 16th century” (The Embroider’s Guild pegs their piece as 17th century); and the Philadelphia Museum of Art’s sample is also pegged as Italian, but bears rather that rather specious early date.
Now these three designs are not the same pattern. BUT they are quite similar in composition, aesthetic, and motif. All three use semi-realistic gnarled limbs in combo of stylized leaves and crosshatched branches. Two employ grape or berry clusters, and two use those odd multi-tier bell like flowers along with the leaves. All decorate leaves either all or in part with parallel lines, or segment them with some areas accented with parallel lines. And all use large leaves of similar form. Two employ similar sprig companion edgings, and all refer back to the crosshatched branch form for a small dividing border between the main field and the companion edging.
I have not yet found a modelbook example of a pattern in this style.
Are these all examples of a regional substyle – a design vocabulary popular in Rome in the late 1500s? Are they products of a specific professional family of embroiders, or a commissioned workshop/atelier? Were these motifs in general circulation – copied from household to household either from printed pages or from previous stitcheries? Were they done by or associated with other members of Honorata Foa’s congregation?
We can only speculate, and acknowledge that these designs are in fact visual cousins, and in all probability present a snapshot of a specific style, from a specific place, and a specific point of time.
Oooh oooh! What should I find in the Uffuzi Museum’s on line taste of their current “Colors of Judiasm” exhibit, but another 17th century piece with stylistic ties to the items above! It’s beginning to look like this particular group has very close ties to the Italian Jewish community of the 1600s-1700s!