A PATTERN’S PEDIGREE

The latest strip. As you can see, a relatively un-normal quiet week allowed me to finish up the last lettered strip and begin the next. This one is done in standard double running stitch (aka Spanish stitch, Holbein stitch) using one strand of plain old DMC cotton embroidery floss. I was thinking of working the background, but I think I’ll leave it plain. I don’t want to overwhelm the delicate scrollings.

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I graphed this from the same photo of a Victoria and Albert Museum sampler that many of the other strips here and in TNCM came from. If the link above doesn’t work, search for item #T.14-1931 (it’s also pictured in Drysdale’s Art of Blackwork Embroidery). It’s listed as Italian, 16th Century in the museum records, but Drysdale lists it as later. Another source lists it as Spanish, which is where the attribution in TNCM came from, but that’s wrong and if I were to re-issue the book, would be corrected. If you squint at the photo you’ll see the sources for my tilting columns, grapes, and the hops flowers and plume flower strips.

But this pattern doesn’t appear only on this one source (right edge, lower four up from the bottom, and just below a red pattern, also see the snippet below). The unknown keeper of the www.drakt.org website took some photos of other samplers at the V&A among them is a page of showing shots of two cases of voided work. Thank you Unknown Keeper! If you look at the centermost of those three photos, you’ll see a pattern very much like the one on 14.931, but instead of outline only like that sampler’s (and my) rendition, this one has a filled in background. Here are the three versions of my current pattern side by side:

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The 14.931’s version is on the left. The unnumbered V&A bit from the Drakt site is in the center, and mine is at the right. I charted mine from 14.931, as best I could. Thankfully I have a better photo from which to work, provided by long time stitchpal Kathryn. For the record, I have not seen this exact base pattern with its distinctive frilled/curvy leaves in my amateur’s wanderings through historical modelbooks, although there are quite a few designs in them that are vaguely similar to it.

Let’s look at the two historical pieces. The V&A calls out 14.931 as possibly being a professional’s work sheet – a sampler in the truest sense of the word, collected by a stitcher of high proficiency as a record, as a reference. The stitcher did just enough of each pattern to set the repeat. The Drakt photo is of a finished band, tricked out with accompanying side flourishes. I’m not sure what the finished band would have adorned. Possibly a pillow or bedcovering, or some table linen. It’s not impossible that it came from clothing, but linens are more likely.

Discounting the worked background, the similarities between the two outweigh the differences. Those are minor – the treatment of the center binding band and stems/bodies of the central flowers, and the treatment of the diagonal arm that links each up-down motif. 14.931 uses a more architectural binding in the center, with more delicate center stems. Its diagonal arm is adorned with an S-shaped squiggle rather than chained solid fill diamonds. But even with the differences between the two historical renditions, it’s clear to me that the two stitchers involved were cribbing from the same source, with minor changes creeping in much like the modern game of telephone, in which a comment whispered to one end of a line and then passed up along the chain often turns out different than the original message. I happen to prefer 14.931’s lines and proportions, so that’s the pattern version I started with.

My amendations are mostly in the treatment of the two terminal flowers in the pattern’s center, a minor elaboration of the binding bars in the center, and the filling in the diagonal arms that connect each central motif. I didn’t like the sponge like “down flower” at the center of 14.931, and I had trouble seeing exactly what was going on with the “up flower.” Plus I didn’t like the smashed tulip look of the comparable center bloom in the Drakt photo. I tried several variations on the S-squiggle in the diagonal arm, but didn’t like any of them. I ended up with th ladder shape in order to make the airy and open terminal acanthus-like leaves look lighter by comparison. And then I added the second narrow binding bar to correct proportions in the motif’s center. I could have raised the original bar two stitches, but I liked the way that it lined up with the separation between the leaves, so instead of moving it I increased its depth and intensified 14.931’s horizontal lines.

I consider my own changes very much in the spirit of the original, and well within the range of variation presented by the two historical samples. I’ve preserved the look and feel of the pattern without debasing the delicacy or detail of the original, and left it a totally identifiable scion of its parents while tweaking it just a bit to my own taste. Your mileage may vary.


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