ENSAMPLARIO ATLANTIO II

While I am still struggling with the release of The Second Carolingian Modelbook at an affordable price point, other doodling has not ceased. I took a look at my notebooks and decided that enough had piled up to make a sequel to my free book of linear designs. And so I present Ensamplario Atlantio II.

This one contains over 225 designs. Most are for the filling patterns used for inhabited blackwork (the outlines plus fillings style pictured on the cover), or for all-over patterning:

Some sport small motifs that can be scattered either at the represented or wider spacing:

Others can be repeated to make strips or borders:

And some are just silly:

There are also longer repeats specifically meant to be borders

Finally, there are two yokes meant for collar openings, but if I tease everything here there will be nothing left.

Click to download –> Ensamplario-Atlantio-II  <–
in PDF format (9 MB)

Although Ensamplario Atlantio II is free, I beg you to respect my author’s rights. These designs are intended for individual, non-commercial use. Please do not repost the book or its constituent pages elsewhere. If you want to use its designs in a piece or a pattern you intend to sell, please contact me for licensing. Other than that, please have fun with them.

And (hint, hint) I ALWAYS like to see the mischief the pattern children attempt out there in the wild world. Feel free to send a photo of anything you make from any of my designs. If you give permission, I’ll post it here, too.

VOIDED GROUNDS

OK. Here’s the post folks have asked for. Warning. It’s long.

I don’t claim this to be totally inclusive (I’m always stumbling across new-to-me things as I browse museum on-line photo collections), but it’s a start. Feel free to comment with additional examples.

There’s been lively discussion on what stitches and techniques were used for the backgrounds of voided works. I’m going to try to present as many examples as I can.

To start – voided pieces are a family of works that feature a more or less uniform background treatment that leaves the main design of the piece plain (or minimally worked. It results in a visual “reverse silhouette” look. There are many manifestations of this aesthetic over time. One widely known subset is Assisi work – a simplified but charming 19th century revival inspired by earlier Renaissance era embroideries. The revival used cross stitch (aka “plain old cross stitch” or POCS) ornamented by back or double running stitches. Earlier styles were more varied.

Meshy

One of the most common treatments was a tightly pulled four-sided stitch, worked to completely cover the threads of the woven ground. None of the ground threads were cut – they were just bundled together, making an extremely durable net-like texture. How do I know it’s durable? I’ve stitched some, made a mistake, and found it absolutely impossible to rip back or deconstruct (perhaps that’s why so many fragments of it exist, even after the towels, pillowcases and other linen they adorned have frayed to death).

The border above is in the Art Institute of Chicago (accession 1896.112, and is attributed to Italy, in the early 1600s. I believe the outlines were established first, in either double running or back stitch, and then the background was filled in, working right up to and in some cases, encroaching on those outlines. Close examination of the photo where the outlines are broken shows no cut ground threads, just distortion. The “wing shapes” in the connecting meandering branches are very amusing to me. I know from experience that working in closed areas is challenging. it looks like the stitcher saved some time and effort by drawing a diagonal between the bud and the side sprig on the branch, and just not filling in between them.

Here’s another example, Italian, but undated, resident in the Harvard Art Museum collection (accession 1916.388). Also outlined with the meshy stitch worked up to the outlines. Note that companion edging though. I can’t tell for sure, but the branches that little leaves grow on at least may be cross stitches. Not sure about the leaves themselves. On this one it’s very clear that the ground cloth threads are bundled, not cut.

Here is a variant – a similar tightly stitched mesh, over a somewhat coarser linen ground, BUT in this case the stitcher did NOT establish an outline and then fill in the background. The piece is most definitely done on the count (not on a freehand outline), but the only stitching that established the motifs is the background mesh. This bit is also from the Cooper Hewitt (accession 1946-42-9a), dated 17th century, but has no posted place of origin. One other thing to note is a bit of directionality in the mesh. Mesh can be worked either on the diagonal or back and forth across succeeding rows. In this case the stitcher did the latter. But it’s NOT long armed cross stitch. It’s still the tightly overworked mesh.

This variant of meshy was done by someone who didn’t encroach on the established outlines. Instead this stitcher left a “halo” of unworked ground around the foreground motifs. There is no companion line on the outer edge of the halo area – the mesh stitch simply starts. I’ve mentioned this piece before in my series on long-lost siblings, and it’s in the Harvard Art Museum (accession 1916.377), but bears no date or location notes.

Here’s a piece that the holding institution claims was done by withdrawing threads, but the detail photo at left (a section where the red stitching has been lost) clearly shows the distortion of groups of 3×3 threads, with no snips or darns. I maintain that this is the pulled meshy stitch, too. Another Cooper-Hewitt sample (accession 1971-50-90), Italian from the 1500s. Love that needle lace edging detail, too!

Cut and Withdrawn/Overstitched Mesh

What about withdrawn thread work, where threads are snipped or turned back and the edges secured, with the remaining scaffolding overstitched to make a meshy background? I’m pretty sure it exists, but I need to find a well documented and clearly photographed sample that explicitly shows the snipped rather than distorted threads of the ground fabric’s weave. Have a reference? Feel free to share it in the comments. If a good one shows up I’ll edit this and include a cut thread heading and photo here.

Long Armed Cross Stitch (LACS)

Another popular ground treatment was long-armed cross stitch. This produces a distinctive almost braided texture when worked back and forth across the piece. The piece below is in the Cooper-Hewitt (accession 1971-50-100 ), with a provenance of Spain, of the 16th-17th century. Again the main design is outlined with back or double running stitch, and the background is filled in later. Note that the stitcher kludged this a bit where the rows of LACS meet up with angles, and that POCS is used for edge ornamentation.

But again, working with an linear outline is not mandatory. Here’s a jaunty falconer on his mount. He is also worked in LACS, but without the double running or back stitch outline, in spite of the complexity of the design. And yes, there ARE some plain old cross stitch bits in there. Much of the surface detail in the otherwise unworked foreground areas are done in POCS. I’d even entertain an argument that outlining was also done in POCS, but is mostly disguised by encroachment of the background LACS. However, the bulk of the background is clearly LACS. You can find this piece in the Cooper-Hewitt (accession 1904-17-4), dated to the 17th century, no provenance. I do wonder about the dating though. The design seems a bit “modern-revival” to me, unless there was a nostalgia movement in the 1600s that presented folk in “antique dress.” Also that cross stitch for outlining thing is very, very rare. (I’ll wait for the experts on dating to chime in on this one.)

More long-armed cross stitch – but more tightly pulled. It’s not true meshy – the plaited like texture and 1×2 crossings are still evident. This time with outlines. In green. This Italian piece is from The Art Institute of Chicago (accession 1937.779), and is dated from 1500s/1600s or so.

Another one just for fun. Clearly LACS-like, and you can make out that 1×2 cross on the very uniform top legs. From the uniformity of those legs I think that this piece was not worked in stitch-by-stitch mode (the standard way of working LACS, but as an entire row, with the stitcher first laying down the “short legs” and then covering them by a second pass working just the “long legs” in the opposite direction. This supposition is borne out by the way the successive rows cross. Note that there has been absolutely no effort to keep the successive rows of LACS either alternating left to right as is done when it’s worked in the usual manner, or all aligning in the same direction. Instead the rows “bounce” when they encounter an obstruction, and do so in a way that’s congruent with the in-two-passes approach. Obviously this one has outlining done in a different color, and the ground done in a very atypical yellow. Sprightly, even with the massive loss of the now blue/green thread. It’s from the Cooper-Hewitt collection (accession 1971-50-77), and dated to the 1500s (no provenance.)

Boxed Fill

There are a few pieces that use an effective but simple fill. The final appearance is that of boxes. The samples I have seen have all been double-sided, and from the pattern produced by unevenly dyed or faded threads, I suspect most of them were worked in double running on the diagonal. No proof though without picking one out, and that would be heresy. This piece is from the Philadelphia Museum (accession 1894-30-116). It’s Italian, of the late 1500s. In addition to the boxed fill the foreground is ornamented with cutwork, which makes it a double-curiosity. On some of these the outlines of the motifs are also done in double running. In others, in back stitch (or possibly very neatly done outline/stem stitch), so that the reverse presents a heavier line defining them. Whether or not those who first used these considered the heavier outlined side the public side is something we may never know.

Here’s the most well known sample of the boxed substyle – the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s apron (accession 38.19.8) – Italian, 16th-17th century. This one doesn’t use outlines to define the motifs. The edges of the box ground units themselves define the edges of the foreground motif.

Here’s another example of the squared filling style (with outlines). This piece is from Musées Royaux d’Art et d’Histoire, in Brussels (accession T.1578), and is dated to the 1500s. It combines variants of two of my favorite designs, the “lettuce” pattern on the left, and another that shows up again and again on the right. Both of these designs turn up in other voided and un-voided presentations, with meshy or LACS as the ground treatment. Or none at all. Variants of these two will be in my ever forthcoming book.

Plain Old Cross Stitch (POCS)

Yup. You had to peek to see what I would say here. Sadly, although I’ve examined hundreds of samples of voided pieces, I have found none with a ground worked in plain cross stitch until the mid/late 19th century revival of that style. That doesn’t mean there aren’t any – just that I haven’t stumbled across them yet. Got one? Feel free to send the reference to me. I’d love to find one and add it to the greater family.

But here’s a prime example of the most complex end of the revived style. These two designs have clear Renaissance era precursors (well, close at least – maybe not exact pedigrees), but are rendered using POCS, with and without linear outlines. This is from The Antique Pattern Library’s copy of Album des Broideries au Point de Croix, compiled by Therese de Dillmont, probably an edition of the 1880s,

Other Modern Treatments

I can cite no historical precedent for these treatments – I admit, I was just riffing on the squared box theme. But they do work and are interesting. These are my own: diagonals, diamonds, and steps. I like the mirroring on the diagonals in the top sample, the second one has all of the diagonals going in the same direction for the entire strip. All of these are worked on designs for which I have citations, and that have or will appear in my books.


THE COOKIE TRADITION CONTINUES

As long-time readers here know, we do ten types of cookies to welcome the holidays. We do a mix of old time favorites, with a few new types each year, and have been slowly adding the tastiest of the new cookies to the regular roster. I think this year we’ve hit on the best assortment yet.

Here’s the spread, with links to the recipes (or close equivalents) where available.

  1. Peanut Butter. The Joy of Cooking standard, with one household adaptation. We use Teddy brand all-natural chunky peanut butter instead of the more usual and more industrial Jiff or Skippy. It gives a better texture, and a more intense, less kiddy-sweet peanut taste. And because it was a special gift – instead of the traditional fork-press decoration for the top, I use a sun-shaped cookie stamp to celebrate the solstice.
  2. Cinnamon swirls. I can’t take credit for this one. Their spiraled perfection is entirely one of Younger Daughter’s specialties. She uses the CIA’s Cinnamon Bun Cookies recipe. It’s a rolled refrigerator cookie that can be made and frozen ahead of time, then defrosted and baked when needed. The frosting is optional, and in my opinion, not needed because the cookie is sweet enough on its own. She leaves it off so the dramatic spiral is better displayed.
  3. Orange Marmalade Cookies. New this year, this is a soft cookie with a zingy, fresh orange icing. We are adding this one to our do-again list, for sure. We made these about half the size of the original, to keep with our bite-size cookie theme (with so many kinds, having smaller cookies allows a range of grazing). If you do them as small as ours (about 1.5 inch across) you will have too much icing. Either cut the recipe by about a third, or enjoy the leftover spread on muffins.
  4. Chocolate Chips. Pretty much the Nestle Toll House classic, minus the nuts since so many of the other cookies are nut-rich. This year I made them thinner and crispier, by special request.
  5. Triple Ginger Cookies. This was my special invention last year. The only difference between last year’s and this year’s is that last year I formed the cookies by rolling the dough in balls. This year I did “wild drop” using two teaspoons. I’m still looking for a really good name for this one.
  6. Earthquakes. Well, we call them that. Most people call them Chocolate Crinkles. No clue as to why we had so little seismic activity on the batch this year – very little dramatic cracking. But they taste the same – intensely chocolaty, like a bite size brownie. There are dozens of recipes out there for these. Mine is from Long Time Pal Kathryn, and uses butter, not oil as the shortening. Here’s something similar.
  7. Oysters. Another home invention – a sandwich cookie, of hazelnut spritz awith dark chocolate ganache filling. So named because the first time I did these I didn’t grind the nuts fine enough, and they clogged the cookie press, making strange, blobby shapes. We fitted those together as best we could, and named them accordingly.
  8. Buffalo Bourbon Balls. Some years we make these with rum, some years with bourbon, but always with pecans. This no-bake cookie was in a circa 1960s edition of the Buffalo News. It is much like this one, although my version uses a bit more cocoa and nuts by proportion, and makes a bigger batch.
  9. Mexican Wedding Cakes. Another must-have, this is an intensely rich shortbread, full of ground pecans, rolled twice in confectioner’s sugar (once warm, once when cooled). Our recipe is like this one, but again, scaled up to make a larger batch.
  10. Cut-Outs. We start with Rich Rolled Cookies from Joy of Cooking (1964 edition), and add lemon zest to the cookie itself. Then for the icing we dissolve powdered sugar in lemon juice (not milk or water), tint it with food coloring and paint/drip it onto the thoroughly cooled cookies.
  11. Ms. Jean’s fudge (not shown because it’s still setting up in the fridge). This year half the batch is with nuts and half is plain, in deference to my nut-adverse friends. Ms. Jean is a family friend, a beloved neighbor and my kids’ honorary Aunt, whose specialty is sharing joy, with a double helping over the holidays. Her’s is a standard quick-fudge, made from chocolate, butter, sweetened condensed milk, a splash of vanilla and a pinch of salt. The one on line most like it is this one from Cooking for Engineers, although Jean’s added a quarter tsp of vanilla and pinch of salt. Save yourself effort though – line your pan with plastic wrap to make getting the stuff out and cut MUCH easier. And have the pan lined are ready to go before you stir the milk into the chocolate.

Now, how do we manage to make all of these? Especially when I work and am not home all day? Over time, and in order. I start early in December, by making the bourbon balls. They need time to mellow, like a fruitcake. The peanut butter cookies are next because with their high oil content, they are a long-keeper. The last ones to be made are usually the Mexican Wedding Cakes because they are delicate and go stale more quickly than some of the others. Most nights that I bake I make a dough and fridge it, to bake on the next evening. On weekends I might do two or three batches in their entirety. As each cookie is finished, it is stowed away in its plastic-wrap lined tin, and its on to the next.

Oh! The holidays do come in a stampeding herd this year.

Happy Hannukah!

Last night was the first candle.

How could I end this post without linking to the latke recipe, too? 🙂

Ginger! Ginger! Ginger!

Another promise to share a recipe, listed here so that it has a stable source page and can be found again. This cookie is another of my mashups – derived from multiple sources, plus a bit of improvisation. I really like how this experiment turned out – an intensely gingery cookie, tempered by the “internal frosting” of the sweet white chips – and having now made it twice, I consider it successfully beta tested and ready to escape my kitchen

Triple Ginger-White Chocolate Chip Cookies

Makes about 5-6 dozen cookies, depending on size.

Triple-Ginger White Chocolate Chip Cookies
(This batch was shaped by the ball method, not the two-teaspoon drop.)

Ingredients
  • 1/2 cup butter (one stick). NOT margarine.
  • 1/2 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
  • 3/4 cup white granulated sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/3 cup heavy cream (can sub light cream or milk if desired)
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla
  • 2 Tbs ginger juice (Bottled from Ginger People, or grated fresh and squeezed from the pulp)
  • 2 1/3 cups all purpose flour
  • 1.5-2 Tbs ground ginger (the more, the hotter…)
  • 1/4 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/3 cup finely diced crystallized ginger
  • 8 oz. white chocolate chips
Method
  1. Cream butter, add sugars and beat until fully combined
  2. Add egg, cream, vanilla, ginger juice, beat these wet ingredients until fully combined.
  3. In separate bowl, sift together the dry ingredients – flour, ground ginger, baking powder, baking soda, salt.
  4. Mix the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients until fully combined into a light cookie dough.
  5. Stir the chopped crystallized ginger and white chocolate chips into the dough, aim for an even distribution throughout.
  6. Fridge the dough for at least an hour before baking.
  7. When ready, preheat oven to 325-deg-F.
  8. Line a cookie sheet with parchment or a non-stick baking mat.
  9. Either rolling the chilled dough into balls, slightly smaller than a walnut, or using two teaspoons to drop the batter without shaping it, form cookies, leaving about 3 inches between each (the cookies do spread).
  10. Bake one sheet at a time for 13 to 15 minutes (convection ovens require the lesser time, conventional may need the upper limit). Cookies should be pale and the undersides should not be deeply browned, as shown above.
  11. Remove from cookie sheet and cool on rack. Can be kept in a tightly covered tin in a cool place for up to 3 weeks, provided the cookie-crazed don’t snarf them up before then.

A PI OF PIES

More or less. Here you see them. A little over three, but probably not 3.14159… pies, exactly.

I posted this photo of our Thanksgiving pies to Facebook, and several friends wrote to me to ask for the recipes. So to the best of my ability, here it goes.

The recipes for the chocolate pecan and pumpkin are pretty exact. The apple-orange pie is more of a method description. All pies here were prepared with extensive help of Younger Daughter, who was responsible for most assembly, and all crust styling. The apple-orange and pecan pies used a home-made traditional lard crust (recipe at the end of this post), but you may sub in any crust you prefer. The pumpkin has its own very temperamental butter crust. Others may also be used, but the feisty butter crust is well worth the effort to attempt.

All of these pies were made in 9-inch glass pie plates, set on heavy, rimmed baking sheets. They were baked on the lowest rack of a convection oven, and baking times are set for that. If you use a metal pan all of these may take less time to bake. If you use a pre-made shell in a disposable aluminum pan, it may take even less time. Watch your pies carefully to forestall burning.

Chocolate Pecan Pie

This recipe is a smash-up among several, including a yummy brown butter pecan pie posted at Cookie Madness, the chocolate pecan pie recipe from The New York Times, and various other pecan pies/chocolate pies clawed from my collection of recipe books. While the Cookie Madness pie was luscious, it tended to not set firmly, even when overbaked. And the NYT pie worked well enough, but was rather under-nutted and a bit short on depth of flavor. The others were variants on a light corn syrup/dark corn syrup combo, and were often much sweeter than I prefer.

Ingredients
  • One 9-inch open face pie crust (no top crust), unbaked.
  • About 2 cups of pecans, sorted into beautiful whole halves, and the broken bits. There should be at least 1.5 cups of broken bits. The rest are decorative, so the exact quantity is up to you. If frugality requires, just use the 1.5 cups and decorate with pastry scrap cutouts instead.
  • 6 Tbs unsalted butter (NOT margarine)
  • 2 oz bittersweet chocolate (about 56 grams)
  • 3/4 cup dark brown corn syrup
  • 4 extra-large eggs
  • 1/2 cup light brown sugar, packed
  • 1 1/4 Tbs cocoa (actual cocoa, not hot chocolate mix)
  • OPTIONAL – 2 Tbs bourbon
  • OPTIONAL – Handful of chopped bittersweet chocolate, or chocolate chips
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1/4 tsp salt
Method
  1. Ready your chosen pie shell. It does NOT need to be pre-baked.
  2. Preheat oven to 350-deg F.
  3. Place pecans on a baking tray in a single layer and toast until fragrant. This will take only a couple of minutes, and they burn easily, so watch them carefully.
  4. Melt butter in a small saucepan over medium-low heat. Let it brown slightly, the color should be like light oak – not pretzels. Remove from heat and let rest for a couple of minutes until the pan cools off a bit but is still warm.
  5. Put chocolate into the pan with the hot, browned butter. Stir until melted and combined. Set aside on the counter to cool a bit more. 15 min is plenty. The butter/chocolate mixture should still be liquid and warm to the touch, but not hot.
  6. Whisk together the eggs, corn syrup, vanilla, bourbon, sugar, and salt.
  7. Whisk in the cocoa powder, make sure there are no lumps.
  8. Add the melted butter/chocolate, and stir until uniform in color.
  9. Place the unbaked pie shell on a rimmed cookie sheet or baking tray. Lining it with parchment or a silicon sheet will make cleanup later easier, and spare your oven if the filling splashes or bubbles over.
  10. Scatter the broken pecans evenly in the pie shell. If using the optional handful of chips or chopped chocolate, sprinkle that over the nuts.
  11. Slowly and carefully, pour your filling mix over the pecans and optional chips. You want to fill carefully so you don’t move the nuts around as you do so.
  12. Arrange the reserved whole half nuts over the top in any decorative manner you desire. It can be full coverage like ours, a ring around the rim, stripes, or anything you want given the quantity of nice pieces to hand. If you are pecan-challenged, you can use dough scraps cut into fancy shapes to decorate. Or just let it be plain.
  13. Bake at 350-degrees F for 30 to 40 minutes, until the center is just set and the pastry is nicely colored.
  14. Cool before serving, preferably on a wire rack. Whipped cream is the expected accompaniment.

Pumpkin Chiffon Pie

I originally got this pie recipe from the Washington Post, 23 November 1986. I do not see it in their on line archives.

The original called for one standard 16 oz can of pumpkin. Since it was written, standard cans of pumpkin have shrunken to 14 or 15 oz. depending on the maker. Scaling back the recipe to account for less pumpkin hasn’t worked for me, nor has buying two cans and having most of the second one left over. Instead we roast small sugar pumpkins in the oven until they are soft, then scrape out the flesh and freeze it in plastic bags, of 16 oz (weighed on a kitchen scale). One thawed out bag = one pie. And the roasted sugar pumpkins have a better flavor than the tinned stuff.

Warnings

The butter crust is extremely fussy to make, and even harder to transfer into the pie plate. It MUST be done the night before and fridged prior to use, and it has an alarming tendency to slump during blind baking. But it is especially tender and delicious, and really puts this pie over the top.

The recipe always makes MORE filling than fits in a standard 9-inch pie plate or a 10-inch quiche pan. I always have a “sidecar” – leftovers baked either in a mini crust (if I have extra crust left over from another recipe – the butter crust is JUST enough for one open face pie); or poured without a crust into an oven-safe ramekin and baked as a mini pumpkin “custard.”

Ingredients

For the butter crust

  • 1 1/2 cups unsifted flour, preferably refrigerated
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 stick of butter, very cold (NOT margarine)
  • 1 Tbs white granulated sugar
  • 1 yolk from extra-large size egg, very cold (save the white for the filling, below)
  • 2 Tbs ice water

For the filling

  • 3 extra-large eggs plus the white left over from the crust
  • 3/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup white granulated sugar plus 1 Tbs flour
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp nutmeg (fresh grated is best)
  • 1/3 tsp allspice
  • 1 Tbs molasses
  • 1 Tbs vanilla
  • 16 oz. pureed pumpkin (canned or home-made)
  • 1 3/4 cup light cream at room temperature
Method

For the crust

  1. Preheat oven to 425-degrees F.
  2. Mix flour and salt in a bowl. Cut in butter into the flour using a pastry cutter or two knives, until the butter lumps are about lentil size. Blend butter and flour bits with fingertips to flake.
  3. Sprinkle with sugar and stir in.
  4. Combine yolk and 2 Tbs ice water. Mix this quickly into the dough.
  5. Press dough into a round cake, cover, and chill. The original recipe said for a half hour. I’ve found overnight is better.
  6. Roll out dough and fill deep dish pie pan or quiche pan. Dough will be very poorly behaved. It will require a lot of flour as you roll, and you’ll probably end up piecing it in the pan instead of transferring it as one unbroken sheet. Try to have enough overlap on the top edge of the pie plate to prevent sagging.
  7. Layer with a sheet of aluminum foil and fill with pie weights, beans, or pennies. (Fill to the top because the thing has a nasty habit of sagging if baked unsupported).
  8. Bake in preheated 425-degree oven for 12 minutes. Turn down the oven to 375-degrees, remove foil and pie weights, and bake for another 12 minutes. Shell will be very blonde, but will have lost the “raw” look. Set aside to cool for at least an hour before filling.

For the filling, and final baking

Note that you will probably have more filling than fits in one pie. If you have extra crust, make a “sidecar” in a ramekin or small oven proof dish. Or just pour the extra into a ramekin, small glass or other ceramic oven-safe dessert-size dish and bake as directed below.

  1. Preheat oven to 425-degrees F.
  2. Using a very large mixing bowl, beat the eggs until frothy.
  3. Beat in the sugars.
  4. Blend in spices.
  5. Stir in molasses and vanilla.
  6. Beat in the pumpkin.
  7. Whisk in the cream.
  8. Stir very slowly for a minute or two to dissipate bubbles.
  9. Place the pre-baked pie shell on a rimmed cookie sheet. Lining it first with baking parchment or a silicon sheet will simplify cleanup later.
  10. Slowly pour the filling mix into the pie pan, until it fills the shell to about 1/2 to 1/4 inch from the top. You will have leftover as mentioned above. Pour that into your sidecar container (with crust or without)
  11. Poke any bubbles on the surface of the pie/sidecar with a toothpick to burst.
  12. Bake pie and sidecar in lower third of a preheated 425-degree oven for 10 minutes. Reduce heat to 325-degrees and bake for another 25 minutes. The sidecar should be done, with a set center, and should be removed now. Leave the main pie in the oven for another 15 minutes until the center is set.
  13. Let the pie cool for at least an hour before serving. Can be served warm, but it’s better if the pie sets up a bit more. A splat of real whipped cream on top is a family must-do.

Apple-Orange Pie aka “Son of Anonymous Apple Pie*”

This pie is a tribute to two friends of ours. both excellent cooks. One taught us basic apple pie procedures, and would host an annual pie-fest where she made them by the dozens, to freeze and bake throughout the year. The other was a keen researcher, and avid baker who dabbled in commercial cooking ventures. She redacted a historical recipe for an apple pie that was punched up with thin slices of candied bitter orange. I blend their two techniques together, but take the easy way out by using marmalade.

You can make this as a traditional full double-crust covered pie, but this year Younger Daughter hit upon using a lattice. I think the extra venting of the lattice yielded a firmer, less soupy, better textured filling, and minimized the boil-over that often happens with juicy apple pies.

Ingredients
  • Enough pie crust for a 9-inch covered pie, or a lattice pie, as you prefer
  • Six to seven firm baking apples. Cortland, Empire, Granny Smith or other tart varieties that hold shape are preferred. Avoid Delicious, Gala, Macoun and other sweet, softer eating apples.
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 2-3 Tablespoons of cinnamon (to taste)
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • About 6 oz orange marmalade. Use only a kind made with sugar, not fructose. I recommend Bon Mamman Orange Marmalade (this is a little bit less than half a jar). 3 Tablespoons of unsalted butter (not margarine)
  • Juice from one small lemon.
Method
  1. Preheat oven to 375-degrees F
  2. Roll out your bottom crust and place it in a 9-inch glass pie plate. Prepare your chosen top crust (full closed pie, or lattice). Place both in the fridge while you prep the pie filling.
  3. Peel, core and slice the apples. To keep them from browning, as you work place the apple slices in a big bowl of cold water along with half of the lemon juice.
  4. Mix the cinnamon with the granulated sugar and kosher salt.
  5. Take the bottom crust out of the fridge, and liberally spread its inside and walls with marmalade.
  6. Take the apple slices out of the lemon water and toss them in a large bowl lined with a clean kitchen towel, to remove most of the wetness. They don’t need to be bone dry, but they should not be dripping.
  7. Tightly layer about a third of the apples in the bottom crust. Sprinkle them with about a third of the sugar-cinnamon mixture. Dot with chunks of about a third of the butter, and with scattered dollups of marmalade. Repeat twice more until all of the filling ingredients have been used up.
  8. Optional – if you like a tart pie, sprinkle about a tablespoon or two of lemon juice over the filling.
  9. Assemble your pie, using either a whole top crust or a lattice. If you are using a top crust, make sure to create at least three large vent holes for steam to escape. Decorate at will if you desire (but don’t clog the vent holes).
  10. Put the ready-to-bake pie on a rimmed baking sheet (preferably on baking parchment or a silicon mat for ease of clean-up). This pie WILL bubble over and make a mess of your oven otherwise. Guaranteed.
  11. Bake in the bottom third of your oven at 375-degrees for about 45 minutes, until the top and bottom are nicely colored, and juices have bubbled for at least 10 minutes. Glass pie plates make it easy to see if the bottom has browned. In all cases, and especially if you are using metal pie pans or pre-made crusts in aluminum pans, begin hovering and watching for done-ness at the 35 min mark. The pie is ready when a skewer inserted into it reveals that the apples inside are soft and easily pierced and the pastry is a pale gold.
  12. Cool before slicing. May be served warm, room temperature, or chilled. Whipped cream, ice cream, or other extras are always appreciated.

* If you are very good, I’ll explain “Anonymous Apple Pie.”
But that veers off into local SCA folklore.

Lard Pie Crust

This is the crust recipe I used for the apple-orange and pecan pies. It makes a very generous double-crust pie with lots left over for decoration, or enough for one less generous double-crust pie shell, plus one single crust shell. I double the recipe below when I bake pies, and use the extra for the sidecar, plus I have enough left over for a half-dozen pastries.

This recipe is closely adapted from several sources, including Sylvia’s Perfect Pie Crust, from the Tasty Kitchen blog.

Ingredients
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 extra-large egg
  • 1 1/2 cups lard, well chilled from the fridge.
  • 5 Tbs ice water
  • 1 Tbs white vinegar
  • 1 1/4 tsp kosher salt. 1 tsp if using regular table salt
Method
  1. Place the flour in a very large mixing bowl. Sprinkle it with all the salt. Cut the cold lard into cubes roughly an inch square and place them on top of the flour. With a pastry cutter, or two knives, cut the lard into the flour until the mix is uniform and the crumbs are about the size of raw oatmeal. Do not use your fingertips or the lard will warm up and the pastry will get sticky.
  2. In a separate small bowl, beat the egg, then pour it over the flour-lard-salt mix. Sprinkle with the vinegar, then with the icewater.
  3. Stir the mix until the dough comes together. Divide the resulting ball in thirds, and form into three flat disks. Wrap each one in plastic wrap or put it in a plastic bag. Refrigerate for at least an hour, better overnight. If desired, you can freeze the disks to use later, letting them thaw for an hour before rolling out.
  4. When ready to shape for your pie, sprinkle your VERY CLEAN countertop with flour and roll out with a rolling pin, starting at the center and working out, rotating the dough to maintain as circular a shape as possible. You may need to flour the top of the dough and your rolling pin, and use a bench scraper or spatula to free the dough from the counter as you go, especially in warmer weather or a hot kitchen. Continue until your circle is about a half-inch wider than the top of your pie plate, then transfer it to the pie pan and pat it into shape, fluting or pinching the top or otherwise decorating as desired.
  5. If you need to prebake/blind bake your shell, do so in a preheated 350-degree oven for about 15-20 minutes, until it just colors and no longer looks raw. Lining the empty shell with aluminum foil and using pie weights/beans/pennies for pre-baking will help keep it from slumping or bubbling up.

A MISSING LINK?

Folk who play around poking into historical styles of counted work often note far flung similarities and make wild conjectures about cross-pollination, imported influences, and neighbors-in-commerce catering to each other’s markets. I’m no different. But I try to contain myself. Still sometimes things present at just too convenient a time or place to NOT raise eyebrows, and make one wish one had the time for real academic research.

Oxford’s Ashmolean Museum houses several artifacts that make my heart flutter.

Where did the style of inhabited blackwork come from? By inhabited blackwork, I mean the style characterized by heavy outlines and geometric fills (ok, sometimes they are freehand, and are not always counted). My old coronation dress underskirt is a classic example.

The style hit big time in Tudor England, cloaked in vague associations with Moorish styles imported from the Iberian regions. There were certainly monochrome or limited palette pieces done before then, scrolling leaves/flowers worked with outlines, and certainly things done on the count. But all of those elements together? And where are “ancestral pieces” in Spain? What can we point to as a seed of the style?

Apparently there isn’t much. Some folkloric associations with Queen Catherine of Aragon, and “general knowledge” but not a lot of actual items that are clear ancestors of the Great Tudor Blackwork Explosion.

That’s where the Ashmolean’s Newberry Collection of Islamic Artifacts comes in. Dating is not very precise, and the provenance is Fustat, Egypt, where many fragments were found, preserved by the dry climate and fortuitous funerary customs. There are lots of bits there that look like the precursors of double running strapwork – bands of repeats done stepwise, that look a like the famous Meyer bands in the Holbein painting.

But there are also these.

Ashmolean Jameel Centre Newberry Collection, “Textile Fragment with leaves and squares”. Egypt, Fustat. 10th to 15th century. 6 x 47cm (warp x weft approx 18 x 19 thread count/cm) Accession EA1993.222

Textile fragment with leaves and squaresfront

Ashmolean Jameel Centre Newberry Collection, “Textile Fragment with scrolling vine leaves, flowers, and leaves”. Egypt, Fustat. 10th to 15th century. 6 x 47cm (warp x weft approx 18 x 19 thread count/cm) Accession EA1993.223

Textile fragment with scrolling vine-leaves, flowers, and leavesfront

These are not Spanish, but they are from a part of the greater Islamic world. They are not monochrome. Being rather broadly dated they only vaguely inch up to the period of inhabited blackwork’s rise to popularity (The 1400s are not the 1500s).

BUT. What we do see here are scrolling leaf and flower forms, with prominent outlines, and simple geometric/abstract fills, with a strong stylized (as opposed to representational) iconic feel. They would have been thought to have vague Moorish associations at the time blackwork arose.

Did works of this type make their way across the entire length of the Mediterranean to Spain, and by extension – to England, to influence the style we know so well? Trading and travel were robust, so it’s not an impossibility. Remember, we have no way to know for sure.

You have to admit though, it’s a juicy bit of speculation…

VOIDED NARRATIVE PANELS

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.

Deep horizontal band with four biblical scenes in off-white on a red silk ground, with deeply scalloped red silk needle lace on three sides. The band consists of four joined panels, each panel depicting a scene which is labeled at the top. The creation of the universe, QUADO CHE IDIO CREO IL MONDO, shows the sun and moon, flowering trees, animals and birds. The creation of Adam and Eve, ADAM  ADAM ET EVA, shows at left Adam alone with a dog, the hand of God removing Adam's rib, and at right Eve emerging from Adam's side. The temptation and flight from Eden, ADAM ET EVA SONO SCACIAI D PARAD, shows Adam receiving the apple from the snake in the Tree of Knowledge on the left, and on the right God casting Adam and Eve out of the gates of the Garden. Cain and Abel the children of earth work, QUANO LA TERA CAIN EVEL SACRIFICANDO, shows on the left a woman nursing a child and a man tilling the soil; on the right two figures kneel before fires.  The figures are reserved in fine undyed linen cloth speckled with embroidered dots, while the background is entirely covered in crimson silk long-legged cross-stitch. Guard borders with sprigs, birds, and animals border each panel.

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!

UPDATE

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.

A CASE OF LONG-LOST TWINS, ALSO LOST IN TIME

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.

ROSE CHART

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.

CRAWLING ALONG, WITH SNAIL AND BEE

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.