Apparently the redbit of stitching I posted yesterday piqued a bit of interest. I received some questions on it:

I can’t see the pattern you describe. Can you post a detail shot?

Here’s the best I can do:

Where did you get red muslin?

I didn’t. As you can see in the detail shot, the ground isn’t red. In fact you can’t see the ground fabric at all – the entire piece is completely overstitched in red, black, yellow, green and light blue.

What thread did you use, what stitches, how big is the piece?

Thinking back to ’75 or so when I made this, and hoping I remember it all – I used two strands teased from standard DMC embroidery floss. The entire piece is done in plain old cross stitch, nothing fancy. The muslin was a remnant from the discount table of a neighborhood fabric store, back in the days before big box crafts stores. Iworked mycross stitchover 2×2 threads of my muslin ground. And yes – all the top legs are crossing in the same direction.

The entire thing is about 11 inches wide and 14 inches deep, both measurements taken at its widest points. As far as gauge or stitches per inch, the weave of the muslin wasn’t square, so my cross stitches aren’t square. The flower motifs themselves graph out exactly square, but because of the weave-induced distortion, they end up looking like rectangles. Across the motif (the stretched dimension) it measures out to about16-17 cross stitch units per inch. Up and down the motif (the squished dimension) it measures out to about 21-22 cross stitch units per inch. The imprecision is there because I have the piece mounted in a frame, and it’s tough to hold a ruler close enough to get an accurate count.

The mounting glass is also why this is photographed at an angle. I hoped to bounce the flash so I didn’t get a glare or – like yesterday – a ghost image of me taking the picture reflected by the frame.

What’s the design source for this one? Why is it a funny shape?

I started with a couple of traditional Ukranian counted thread patterns, most notablyan illustration in Mary Gostelow’s Complete International Book of Embroidery, then played with them a bit. What I ended up with was a yoke for a blouse or dress. I did wear this yoke, appliqued onto two garments. The first was a very thick linen peasant-style blouse, smockedjust beneath the panel and finished with gathered and tied cuffs. After that blouse met an untimely soy sauce/bleach-related death, the second was a black straighttunic-type linen top, rather North African in shape. Thankfully the embroidery itself was unharmed by the soy sauce and subsequent attempt to clean it. Another thing – this is the piece that was recognized with the Nellie Custis Lewis prize at the Woodlawn Plantation Needlework exhibition in ’93. That year the special prize was given for garment trim or accessories.

So, what relevance does all this have to knitting anyway?

One thing that gets me fired up is the possibility of cross-pollination among needlecrafts. Why can’t I take a 16th century pattern intended for lacis, counted embroidery or weaving, and use it in filet crochet or knitting? Why do I have to stick to traditional Scandanavian, North Sea island, and Baltic motifs for stranded colorwork? For example, why not mess with this red bit of stitching, adapting its motifs for knitting?

Why for that matter do I have to stick to any one type of needlework? I’ve done that. I’ve made the repro historical pieces.It’s virtuoso work when done to the nth level, but it’s also limiting. I want to do more. What gets me trulyinvolvedis moving away fromstaid verbatimreproductionin one of two directions, either –

  • Making an entirely original and new piece, but doing it in such a way that were it transported back in time it would be accepted as yet another contemporary example of its type.
  • Taking motifs, designs, or aesthetics from one branch of traditional needle arts and using them either in combo with another form, or for use entirely in another form.

Thisattitude one of the things that makes me a Rogue Laurel in the SCA. Yes, making an exacting reproduction of a meticulously researched and documented artifact is a manifestation of skill (and perseverence) on a high order, but I don’t see it as the ultimate expression of the deepest level of understanding.

Believe it or not, I seethe elusive goal of true mastery of a needlework formas having parallels in martial arts. It’s one thing to learn fencing, Judo, Karate or Aikido exercises perfectly and to perform them with grace and precision when required. It’s another thing to abstract the principles behind the exercises, and be able to summon them up to defend oneself from someone who doesn’t know the otherside of the script. It’s the inner form of these arts, the part that you can recognize at a visceral level, internalize, and use as a point of spontaneousapplicationthat is the goal of practicing the outer form of the techniques.

So from street fighting, I cycle back to stitching and knitting. I have donemany of these other things amd tried out many different needle artsbecause I see deeper parallels among them; because the lessons I learn in onepursuit inform my investigations of others. And bogus pseudo-philosophy aside – mostly I do these things because they make me happy.

Footnotes: SCA = Society for Creative Anachronism. Laurel = SCA’s kindgom-level award for achievement in the arts – one of the highest achievements possible withing the group, and an ardently sought-after goal. Iam honored to have been recognized in the East Kingdom in ’79 for fostering the practice of historically accurate embroidery, in specific – blackwork and related styles. Rogue Laurel = one so honored whose opinions differ from the established consensus, who ends up being in the minority on most arts-related issues, see related entries under "pain in the butt," and "gadfly." I’m mostly retired from active participation in the SCA these days, but I can still be found on occasion at events in Carolingia (greater Boston, Massachusetts area branch).

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