KNOTTY PROBLEMS

Invaders having been secured, I add another panel pattern. This time it’s a nifty knotwork interlace, also graphed out in TNCM, on plate 31:1.

do-Right-6.jpg

What exactly it looks like will become clearer as I move along. This block unit pattern appears in several early books. I spotted it in a Ensamplario di Lavori published by Vavassore in 1532, and also in a different modelbook entitled Convivio Delle Belle Donne, also dated between 1530 and 1540. If you look at enough of these early pattern books, you can see all sorts of reprintings, adaptations, regraphings, possible block trading, and very probable plagiarism as the various semi-itinerant publishers interacted.

If you consider that each print block was very laborious to create (these patterns not being amenable to moveable type), the habit of publishers of re-issuing some of their old pages in new collections is easy to understand. Trading is, too. I can imagine two publishers based in different areas, but who traveled around a circuit (or who had agents who did) exchanging blocks so that each would have new material at minimal additional invested effort.

The “borrowing” is also easy to conceptualize. These pattern books were very popular, and the designs in them were highly sought after. It’s quicker to copy a design from a competitor’s book than it is to come up with a totally new one yourself, especially in the days when pre-printed graph paper was a rarity (some of the pattern books are mostly just that – blank graph paper, with a few pages of pre-done patterns as intro.)

How to identify copying versus trading? You have to get up close and personal with the patterns. As I regraphed them for TNCM I noticed small variants among different versions of the same basic design. Peter Quentel’s two-birds panel from 1527, reproduced on this page from blog Feeling Stitchy is well represented, and exists in many very close variants. There are very slight differences among them in the layout of the flowers, the position of the birds’ feet. This same pattern persisted in middle European folk embroidery, gaining and losing detail over time as it was copied and recopied, in sort of a multi-generational needlework game of telephone.

This particular knotwork pattern has always been a favorite of mine because of its versatility. You see a three-loop knot at the center of the piece I’m stitching now. The knot itself is easy to deconstruct and reassemble. I’ll be using the three-loop center, with a one-loop iteration on either side. Then depending on spacing and relative room, I’ll either do another two or three-loop knot followed by a one or more little terminal center loops to finish.

And finally to answer the person who wrote to say that they liked my stitching but found it woefully modern, and thought TNCM was “contaminated” by my including my own designs – I have to respectfully disagree. I took extreme pains to carefully document every design in the book. The ones that were “inspired by” rather than transcribed bear that notation. Original work is always marked and is less than 10% of the book. Most of it is there to fill out pages so that no space would be wasted.

[controversial thought warning for the following]

I do not believe that producing a slavish copy of a period original is the highest form of expression or understanding. Yes, it does demonstrate extreme mastery, perseverance, and skill that deserve praise. But to create a totally new piece that were it compared side by side with its historical siblings, and see that piece as an absolute exemplar of the type – to the point that were it transported back to the point of origin, it would be unquestioningly accepted – that’s mastery of the inner form. It’s parallel to martial arts practice. Knowing the katas and training forms perfectly is a matter of high skill, but that skill might not equate to being able to abstract the lessons in those forms and apply them in an un-choreographed street fight.

I do not pretend that my doodle samplers and contemporary stitching approach the new-artifact level (with the possible exception of my forever coif). But I do think that the few original designs presented in TNCM do come close, and the reaction some readers that they feel “cheated” proves my point. If those designs were somehow substandard and not tempting, people would not be expressing frustration. Do those looking for meticulous documentation to substantiate and produce a pedigreed work for an SCA Arts and Sciences competition want use my original designs? Some might, from an aesthetic standpoint, but they wouldn’t do so because those patterns can’t be sourced back to a specific stitch-for-stitch or published historical original. But that’s why they’re marked as mine.


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  1. […] written about this before. (It’s the base stance that makes me a “rogue Laurel” in the SCA.) Exact […]

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