BUNNY-HOUNDS AND PELICANS

Last week’s columns and plume flowers strip was a quick one. Not the least because it was in plain old cross stitch. I am pleased with the darker-but-not-overwhelming density. And as you can see, I’m on to the next one, featuring the hounds and pelicans, yet another design that will be in the ever-forthcoming T2CM:

I am looking forward to unrolling this piece when this new strip is done, to see how much more real estate I have to cover, and to make plans for how dark or light those strips will need to be. Then I get to go hunting for what to stitch next.

This week’s strip is an interesting one on a couple of fronts. First, in terms of history, it has a specific point of origin – in 16th century Sweden; not Germany or Italy or any of the other countries better known for linear embroidery at that time. It’s in the Swedish History Museum, Inventory number 19600.

The museum citation says that the piece is from a chapel in Uppland, Östervåla; stitched in red silk on white linen. It also includes the matching vertical border which I haven’t graphed yet, plus a sweet row of heart-shaped cartouches bearing heraldry, the frames of which are also on my futures list. I haven’t stumbled across another piece of linear stitching in this style from this region/time, so it’s a bit of a mystery. How prevalent was it? Was this type of work limited to church linen? Did it appear also on clothing? Obviously more research is needed. If you know of any other pieces in this family, please let me know.

Now on to iconography. While this piece has non-secular origins and was part of a chapel’s furnishings, its religious symbolism is not as direct as most church hangings. No martyrs. No pascal lambs, sacred hearts, or other standard symbols. Just pelicans and hounds. Even slightly misshapen, the quadrupeds are identifiable as coursing/sight hounds of some type. They are collared and belted, slim waisted and long legged, with floppy ears and pointy muzzles. Dogs, especially hunting hounds would have been seen as symbols of fidelity, determination, and loyalty. Pelicans are a bit more esoteric. Here they are shown “vulning” – piercing their breasts with their beaks, in order to feed their young with drops of blood. This was a standard bit of common folk legend at the time – along with the belief that worms spontaneously generated from the soil, and hedgehogs carried berries home to snack on later, impaled on their quills. Obviously the imagery was associated with self-sacrifice, devotion, and parental care.

Therefore, we have a cloth covered with symbols of devotion, loyalty, and self-sacrifice – something that would have special meaning in the religious setting. The background for this may be Sweden’s departure from the Catholic church in the late 1520s. Perhaps this rather humble, non-demonstrative bit of stitching (no gold, no gems, no saints) with its generic paean to virtues fits into the schism between Catholicism and Sweden’s developing Lutheran-based faith.

I admit I knew the pelican story courtesy of the Society for Creative Anachronism (SCA). It’s no secret that I’ve been involved with it deeply in the past, and continue to have many friends active in the organization today. The highest SCA award for service is the Pelican, and its badge is a pelican vulning. This highly respected honor recognizes those vital individuals whose labor, largely voluntary, is the fuel that keeps the organization running. If you ever attend an event and see someone with a brooch or pendant with a pelican, know that the person you have met is Very Important, and widely respected by their peers. My sampler will have pelicans on it, but I am not a member of that order, nor do I intend to display it in an SCA context. I could wear a badge with a laurel wreath, but that’s another story for another time.

Finally, I announce that we have embarked onto another Great Home Improvement Journey. This time it’s the basement. I will post before/during/after pix, but right now I am still packing up and stowing my needlework library, office area, and craft room. The chaos is palpable. Here are a few of my stitching and knitting books. I’ve already had reason to refer to them, but have had to sit on my hands and just contemplate my wall of boxes. Work on the basement proper should begin by April. Until then, it’s lift, sort, box, and stack for me.

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