SCHOLA TALK

No pix this week. The Resident Male took my preferred camera with him on a business trip overseas, and I’m not disposed to dump batteries down the gaping maw of the older camera in their joint absence.

I had a lot of fun at the Hrim Schola event in Quintavia (Marlborough, MA) this weekend past. I took both Elder and Younger Daughter, plus Younger Daughter’s Pal. The four of us did the full day of classes and workshops, pausing briefly between activities to nosh out on the offered foods and snacks. I thoroughly enjoyed the three sessions I attended – an overview of fleeces and spinning by Lady Ermengar; a lessons-learned lecture on Italian Renaissance era Perugia towels by Master Peregrine the Illuminator; and an introductory taste of withdrawn thread work given by Kasia Wasilewska. The towels come from the same period as my favorite stitching, and the motifs are very much akin to it. Whitework is on my agenda, especially the early forms of cut and withdrawn thread stitching. And anyone who’s followed here knows that knitting is my hobby-away-from-my hobby – the thing I do when I’m not stitching (and vice versa.)

The kids went to several other workshops on Viking wire weaving; basic chain mail construction (no rivets or soldering); Japanese Kumihimo braiding; combing and carding wool; hand sewing; and needle weaving. Adding in the lucets they’ve both acquired this year (plus the lucet technique book they picked up from Small Churl Books at the Schola), we now have infinitely more ways to play with string in all its forms.

As part of the day’s activities, I gave a whirlwind tour of some of the things I’ve stumbled across doing research for TNCM2.

The first part of the talk was a travelogue of some of the counted styles popular in the 1500-1650 time range. I touched on the difficulty of exact dating due to the nature of the major collections in museums – that they were mostly amassed between 1860 and 1920, by collectors whose boundless enthusiasm and interest was rather more greatly developed than their ability to pin down dates and provenances. I also mentioned that while my original goal had been to develop a chronology of techniques and styles, doing so crisply based on the meager attributions and origins was impossible. Maybe as 16th and 17th century edging and domestic embroidery scraps become as well known and appreciated as samplers, and are studied by academics armed with the latest in dating technology it will become easier, but for now chronology is rather mushy.

After the style stampede I glossed over uses – the usual: clothing, domestic linen (sheets, napery, coverpanes, cushions), liturgical items. I tried to show examples not commonly represented in books or on-line image collections.

Then the real fun began. I tried to show that some standard preconceptions about these works can be challenged in the artifact record. We looked at work that wasn’t just red or black (or blue or green); monochrome vs. polychrome works; mixed techniques; that historical linen was not always even weave by the modern definition; that stitching was most often done over 3×3 or 4×4 threads on finer linen than we use for modern 2z2 countwork. I showed examples of contrasting color outline voided pieces, and some works that were less concerned with adherence to precision pattern fidelity than they were with overall effect. And we looked at some pieces that while worked on the count, were probably drawn on the fabric freehand prior to stitching rather than being reproduced from a graph or previous piece of stitching.

After that it was a short move to the “treasure hunt” part of the talk. I have great fun finding and matching disparate works. I’ve found quite a few pieces that represent distinct pattern families. Some of these designs appear on snippets of finished works and also on specific historical samplers – not English didactic ones, on pieces I believe might have been sample sheets for professionals (my fave V&A sampler falls in this category). In other cases there are groups of finished snippets that were clearly worked from the same master pattern. Some of these have roots in German, Italian, French and English modelbooks. Others have no printed original that has descended to us, but are so close in base design that a common source must have existed. And other snippets, now widely scattered to different museums or private collections might in fact have come from the same origins, sold in small pieces to multiple collectors who visited the same European dealers.

The upshot of my talk is that there is far more variation in these pieces than modern stitchers might realize. That these variations enable a fair amount of play for those wishing to replicate a style. I’m a firm believer in studying the samples in order to internalize the deeper aesthetic and method, then using those vocabularies to produce work that is true to the time, without being a clone of a period piece. I don’t claim that my stitching embodies that ideal. My stuff is modern play-testing, assembled without regard for period aesthetic. Learning pieces at best, and not historical beyond the fact that they incorporate historical designs.

I got some good questions from the group. After TNCM2 is out, I’ll look into ateliers and professional vs. at-home stitching, and see what the academic literature has accumulated in the six or so years since the last time I went on a hunt for that info. I’ll also look more into materials, especially fingerspun floss silks. And I’ll be reworking some of the slides from the talk into blog posts, with source references, so that the small audience here can chime in, too.

I think the attendees enjoyed the talk, although in retrospect, I probably had way too much content for just one hour. I motored through at ramming speed, for sure. By the end they looked exhausted, and a bit overwhelmed. But that could have been my own exhaustion projecting itself onto them.

Needless to say, I had a great time. It was fun to find others interested in this stuff. I met quite a few people face to fact that I’d either not seen in 15 years, or who I have only known through on-line interaction (Hi guys!). I’m not a joiner, and am pretty solitary by nature. I tool along on my own, and have done so for decades. Blogging and boards bring some interaction with kindred spirits, sparks I truly appreciate. But giving the talk and interacting with the attendees was like sitting by a bonfire. If they enjoyed it half as much as I did, I’ll be extremely happy.

Oh. One last thing. Thanks to the group who put this together, running the event, scheduling the classes, manning the kitchen (very tasty!), and otherwise enabling the day. And thanks to Davey whose enthusiasm and encouragement goaded me into crawling out of my basement hole, and volunteering to do a class.


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One response

  1. There is absolutely no problem with staying in basement holes, believe me that is my prefered location. However that is impossible for me now as those napkins I made garnered much more attention then I had been prepared for. I would have loved to be at that class, is there any way to get a copy of a handout from it?
    BTW I started my next project. This in many ways will be a much quicker going project then my napkins, but I will admit it felt good to work on it today.

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