UNUSUAL FIND AND POSSIBLE USE

Sometimes it feels like everything I see is fraught with stitching purpose.

Yesterday Younger Spawn and I went to the local Burlington, MA H-Mart, for a general restock of kimchi, various sauces, and condiments since the options in Troy, NY for such things are less abundant and can pose a logistic challenge in an area with so little public transportation.

While we were shopping we wandered the housewares aisle. I’ve found all sorts of useful stuff in there, including the hand sickle we use to keep our giant grass in check. This time was no different.

I stumbled across a display of small mesh cloths of various sizes. If it is to be believed, Google Translate tells me this stuff is called Isambe Bozagi or Bojagi (various transliteration/translation platforms render it differently), and then translate it variously to hemp cloth (middle), and burlap (Chinese). But it’s clearly marked as cotton, and of domestic Korean manufacture.

Product information says that it’s about 33 x 34 cm and hemmed. That it’s food-safe, essential for steaming (especially dumplings, and sweet potatoes), can be used to cover food in the summer, and is used to strain soy products (possibly making tofu), and soups. It also says to wash separately and dry thoroughly before use.

All well and good. I do steam things on occasion and it might come in handy. But what caught my eye was the weave. I think it’s sideways in my penny photo, but note the doubled thread in one direction (probably the weft). That’s not unlike the woven ground used for Buratto embroidery – a stitched and darned form popular in the 16th and 17th centuries, stretching on to the 18th century. It’s a cousin to other better known darned mesh works done on knotted netting grounds or on withdrawn thread scaffoldings, but in Buratto’s case the ground was purpose woven as a mesh.

Here’s a bit in the Metropolitan Museum’s collection (Accession 076261 in case the link breaks) – 16th century, Italian. The ground is linen, not cotton, and the stitching is silk. The piece is about 13×4 inches (33×10 cm).

My Korean kitchen cloth’s mesh count is roughly 16.5 x 15 meshes per inch. Just a little bit finer than this, which is about 14 meshes per inch (counting height of the snippet and dividing by 4). And although it’s hard to make out, the structure can be seen in this ultra close-up.

There are places you can find buratto style grounds to stitch. Those resources are usually quite a bit more expensive. If you happen to have an H-Mart in your area (and they are a national chain here in the US, with more popping up every year), you may be able to luck into this wildly inexpensive cloth. It’s not perfect, but at the price it’s a wonderful tool for experimentation. I’m penciling playing with this stuff into my dance card, probably for some time next year, and may go back and get more.

Bonus Eye Candy and Background

Just for fun, here are some more examples so you can see the breadth of expression of this stitching family. There is a lot of variety in works done on buratto. Monochrome was common. Polychrome was common. Dyed grounds were common. Geometrics and florals were both common. Also the style went through several revivals, and was particularly prized during the “Indiana Jones” era of textile collecting. Many museums collections are based around those gleanings, and haven’t been revisited since their donation before WWI. As a result, many attributions are a bit “mushy” – there are certainly revival pieces marked as pre-1700s originals, and even the real experts (of which I am not one) have problems determining age without extensive forensic testing.

The one above is also Italian, 16th-17th century, and is in the collection of the Cooper-Hewitt Museum, accession 1971-50.198. No information on the museum’s page though as to size or scale.

The one above looks to have an indigo-dyed ground, stitched in white. Italian, 16th century, from the Met’s collection, accession 08.180.448. This one is about 3.75 inches tall, which makes its scale very close to the 14 meshes per inch of the Korean steaming cloth.

And a wild multicolor one 17th century Italian, also from the Met, accession 12.9.3. Many of these pieces just said “embroidered on net” or were lumped in with lacis, but lately there has been a move to divide those done on true knotted net (lacis) from those done on woven buratto fabric. The on-line descriptions are slowly being updated accordingly.

Although I can’t declare for certain, looking at the dates of the more elaborate, especially the ones with patterned infills, the style appears to have evolved in that direction over time. Here is a piece typical of that group. This 18th century piece is another gem of the Met, accession 12.8.3 in case the link breaks. But do note that multicolor is documented back to the 1500s.


And here are some links on the history of the style; some discussing its link to early modelbooks. Buratto was one of the stitching styles specifically named in modelbook prefaces as a suitable art for the designs they presented.

So there we are. A chance encounter in the housewares aisle turned into a rabbit hole of exploding possibilities. Good thing I’m retired. I might actually find the time to dance with all of these charming partners lined up on my card. 🙂

9 responses

  1. Carolyn Priest-Dorman | Reply

    Burato! That’s awesome.

    The modern stuff has a basic gauze weave structure. Is the medieval stuff also a gauze?

    1. Yes. A mesh gauze, with paired weft threads and single warp threads. In some cases the weft threads are thinner than the warp, but it’s hard to tell because the linen has bloomed over the centuries.

      1. Carolyn Priest-Dorman | Reply

        Even more cool!

        My mind always goes to how the cloth for embroidery was produced, and now I am wondering about ItRen leno lace/gauze weaving. Never a dull moment inside this brain!

        1. When I think of modern gauze my mind goes to surgical gauze and cheesecloth. This stuff has thicker threads, much closer together to make a denser mesh, but is structurally very similar.

  2. Il Burato libri de ricami by P. Alessandro Paganini is available from Abebooks for less than $25.00.

    I think it’s the one I downloaded many years ago, and have on CD. It looks familiar.

    1. Very familiar with it. An on-line accessible free edition is here. https://openlibrary.org/books/OL25387911M/Il_Burato

  3. The Met. piece is on leno woven cloth – note the interlacing of the threads. The H-Mart cloth is plain woven.

    1. I bow to the expertise of the weaver. But I also note that this stuff is still good for practice.

  4. I was going to note the difference in those pairs of threads that Diane did. I had to go look up leno weave. Interesting that the warp twist direction changes between each weft thread. I wonder if that’s driven by equipment design issues or if it has to do with the resulting fabric maybe wanting to take on a bias shift when finished and off the loom? That will be a study for another day! 🙂
    I’m going to keep an eye out for this stuff. If it doesn’t end up in the needlework stash, it looks like it could last a lot longer than cheesecloth does.

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