I did not plan to stitch this piece of crimson and gold leaves as a tribute to Fall, but it’s starting to look that way.
I’m munching along on both the repeat and the border. But being a tad lazy, I’ve been concentrating on the easy-to-do double running, and not on the high-concentration-to-achieve satin stitch. (I envy those who walk through satin stitch and make it look so simple).
This segment is about 65% as wide as the finished piece will be. The center diagonal branches will stretch a bit further to the left, possibly one or one and a half more iterations of the repeat. There will also be a companion border on that edge. I am still deciding whether or not I will add borders to the ends now captive on my frame’s rollers, or whether I will just finish out the design either truncated, or with the narrow diagonal trim, but without the accompanying outer leaves. Lots depends on what this will end up being. That decision is also still up in the air. Pillow? Framed piece? Soft-finished scroll hanging? I haven’t a clue. Not yet, anyway.
In any case, the double running is not presenting a problem. The design is pretty straightforward. Each side of the branch is its own baseline. The only tricky bit is placing the branch sides at the right spot. To do that, I have been using a point where the leaves approach each other closest. That’s the spot with the little “thumb” that sticks out and waves at its counterpart.
I work the next branch side by counting over from the established bit, then proofing my work as I go against other previously stitched areas. Yes, I do make mistakes, but by and large, once I have the pattern down – in this case mostly memorized after so many repeats, counting mistakes are rare.
Much more common is an annoyance of working with one hand in front and the other behind, and blind. Try as I may, I still catch and stitch through my working thread as I push the needle back up from the unseen side to the front. While waxing does help a bit for the double running sections, I still have to stop and de-tangle my stitching thread, often sacrificing a bit to the resulting fray. And it’s worse for the satin stitch areas because those can’t be waxed at all. Not and preserve that lovely sheen.
Since I have only a limited quantity of the thread I am using – more of the vintage “art silk” I bought in India – every inch lost to fraying is heartbreaking. In fact I am working compartmentalized so that I can terminate early, just in case running out of thread becomes all too real.
I continue on the Italian Renaissance leafy multicolor piece.
The skewed weave you may see is an artifact of image compression, and is not indicative of the appearance of the ground cloth.
Originally I had thought to do yet another sampler cloth, with lots of designs grouped rather willy-nilly, but I have changed my mind. The look of this particular ground is so striking that I want to do a larger example of it. I also have a companion edging for this all-over that I’m itching to apply. Right now I’m leaning towards a large rectangular piece, surrounded by that edging, possibly using some surface work in gold thread for added bling. I’m not sure what the finish will be, but I am considering making this into a pillow, which is one of the possible original uses for a design of this type.
Along the way I am re-learning the delights of Satin Stitch. It never was one of my faves, but the play of light using the faux silk thread can’t be beat. The deep green I’m using for the counted outlines in double running is waxed, but the satin stitch in-fillings are not in order to maximize sheen. And no – I’m not going to stitch every area in every leaf. I’m going to leave the piece partially filled in as it is above. That’s more or less along the lines of the original, but possibly leaving a bit more unfilled. The decision on working the red on the other half of each large leaf is still being made. On one hand it would look interesting, but on the other hand, so much red would overpower the rest of the stitching. Opinions are solicited here.
I’ve also learned the hard way how NOT to handle the multicolor fill on the branch. Originally I had done it as multiple rows of one-unit tall satin stitch, vertically. That broke up the color too much, so I picked that out and re-did it wider, but with the color broken up by the little bits of cross hatching on the sides of the stem. I am not entirely pleased, in part due to clumsy execution of the first. Working that bit horizontally is right out, both for fidelity to the original reasons, and due to the breadth and spread of those areas. I may need to explore threading my satin stitches underneath some of the crosshatches. Or just learning to do them more neatly…
The current plan is to work up the rest of the area inside this hoop, and then transfer the piece to my big flat frame. The thought of hooping over all that satin stitch brings the visceral feel of fingernails on a chalk board.
OK. Fresh off Cupids, I begin another haphazardly planned piece. As I start this write-up, I have no clear idea as to what I might be doing. But I do know how to start.
I’ve taken a piece of linen from my stash – it’s probably around 40 tpi – and I’ve hemmed it on three sides. The last side is selvedge and I am lazy.
I have also used regular sewing thread to mark out my absolute edges, and the centerlines. I hesitate to say horizontal and vertical because at this point I am not sure which orientation I will use. Note that I have not gridded the entire piece, nor are my basted guidelines done on any sort of regular count (other than following a specific line across the entire cloth).
Now on to think about threads. I’m tired of the DMC cotton I’ve been using. I still have some significant quantities of the faux silk I bought in India. My color selection is more limited, but there are several that remain in multi skein hanks. I’ve picked out some of these in deep forest, a burgundy, a gold, and an off-white/silvery. Polychrome!
Now on to the design itself. And observations on a design cluster.
I’m basing this one (at least in part) on an artifact on the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Accession 1894-30-114. The image below is cribbed from their site.
It’s a curious piece, not only because of the use of multicolors, but also because of the clearly counted linear outlines plus the satin stitch fills. Here’s my color-change start:
I haven’t done one of these multicolor, filled pieces yet, and I’m interested to see how I can gild this particular lily. In true bungee-jump stitching style I am not sure if I will fill out the entire cloth with this design, or if I will just do it as a center, then edge it around with other concoctions. Time (and thread availability) will tell.
Now as to why I think this one is part of a design cluster.
While I note that the dating for the Philadelphia Museum snippet is a bit odd (they claim 14th century, which to me is way too early), this piece has significant family resemblance to several other artifacts. One is the center panel of my Stupid Cupid sampler. Both it and the one I’m working now will be in The Second Carolingian Modelbook.
Here’s another sample of a similar design. This bit is from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Accession 79.1.14, along with my stitched rendition of the a very similar design as presented in Pauline Johnstone’s Three Hundred Years of Embroidery, Wakefield Press, 1986, on page 17. My bit is in red at the right. I included the chart for my version in The New Carolingian Modelbook.
UPDATE: The sample in Ms. Johnstone’s book (shown below) is a holding of the Embroiderer’s Guild, #5376. It looks like it and the Met fragments are more long-lost siblings. It’s stitch for stitch identical in every detail to the Met piece.
We have a clear provenance with the Jewish Museum’s piece. It’s dated with a reference to the Jewish calendar year 5343, which puts it at 1582/1583 on the standard Western calendar, and it’s from a congregation in Rome. The lady Honorata Foa either commissioned it or made it herself for donation to that congregation. I’ve written about it before.
The Met’s sample is “Italian, 16th century” (The Embroider’s Guild pegs their piece as 17th century); and the Philadelphia Museum of Art’s sample is also pegged as Italian, but bears rather that rather specious early date.
Now these three designs are not the same pattern. BUT they are quite similar in composition, aesthetic, and motif. All three use semi-realistic gnarled limbs in combo of stylized leaves and crosshatched branches. Two employ grape or berry clusters, and two use those odd multi-tier bell like flowers along with the leaves. All decorate leaves either all or in part with parallel lines, or segment them with some areas accented with parallel lines. And all use large leaves of similar form. Two employ similar sprig companion edgings, and all refer back to the crosshatched branch form for a small dividing border between the main field and the companion edging.
I have not yet found a modelbook example of a pattern in this style.
Are these all examples of a regional substyle – a design vocabulary popular in Rome in the late 1500s? Are they products of a specific professional family of embroiders, or a commissioned workshop/atelier? Were these motifs in general circulation – copied from household to household either from printed pages or from previous stitcheries? Were they done by or associated with other members of Honorata Foa’s congregation?
We can only speculate, and acknowledge that these designs are in fact visual cousins, and in all probability present a snapshot of a specific style, from a specific place, and a specific point of time.
Oooh oooh! What should I find in the Uffuzi Museum’s on line taste of their current “Colors of Judiasm” exhibit, but another 17th century piece with stylistic ties to the items above! It’s beginning to look like this particular group has very close ties to the Italian Jewish community of the 1600s-1700s!
All that’s left to do is to tweak the corners. They don’t match, which is fine, but they should at least be of similar density. It’s also interesting to note that my so-called even-weave linen isn’t quite even. There’s a distinct difference in proportion between the plume flowers done horizontally and those done differently. The verticals are a bit elongated, north south. The same slight distortion also shows up in the proportions of the bottom cupid strip.
And along the way, I found yet another Separated at Birth example – possibly not siblings cut from the very same artifact strip, but close cousins at the very least.
Here’s an example of the derpy cupid and cockatrice panel from the collection of the Art Institute of Chicago, Accession # 1907.665a (in case the link breaks).
And here’s the same design, in the collection of the Cooper-Hewitt, Accession # 1971-50-96. This is the one I graphed up for eventual inclusion in the forthcoming Second Carolingian Modelbook, from which I stitched my rendition. Note that although the stitch counts in the bit below and my rendition are identical, my sample is distorted by the proportions of my ground cloth’s weave compared to the original, which is distorted a bit in the other direction.
AIC dates theirs to 1601 to 1700, and it came to them as part of a Rogers Fund donation in 1907. CH’s sample came from one of my personal heroines – Madeline Hague, collector, curator and historical stitching researcher, and was donated to the museum with other items of her personal collection as a bequest. CH dates this from the 16th-17th century. Both agree on an Italian provenance.
There are some subtle differences between them that I didn’t notice until I had actually stitched up a length of the design. The birds on the narrow companion border on the top edge, although of the same design, do not face in the same direction on both strips. The bow in the AIC example is a bit more detailed, as are the sprouting separators between the cupids and cockatrices, but the CH’s sample has more detail on the cupid’s chest.
Still, the similarities do convince me that the two strips might have been worked from the same broadside sheet or modelbook illustration, or copied from a prior stitchery (or each other). They might have been worked by two people for use on the same original artifact or set of artifacts – cuffs, matching towels, bed hangings or sheets. One intriguing clue is the fact that each one sports a cut end, where the embroidered length is clearly snipped right through the stitching, and a “selvedge edge” where the embroidery deliberately stops before the cloth is cut (on the right on the CH sample, and on the left on the AIC snippet).
So. Were these used in tandem? Are they contemporary? Were they copied from the same source? Were they copied one from the other? We have no way of knowing. But as goofy as this cupid looks, he clearly has a mysterious and secret past.
Vacation week was quite relaxing, and I managed to get more stitching done than I thought I might. There’s something idyllic about sitting on warm sand under an umbrella, peeping over the top of the embroidery frame at the ebb and flow of the tide.
I squared off some of the missing bits along the right hand edge, and worked on the plume-flowers that march around the outside, rounding two more corners.
Now that I’m back at home and working from a graph is easier than on the windy beach, I will eke out the rightmost edge of the top cupid/lion strip. BUT the empty area to the right of the center strip is too narrow to subdivide with the established strapped frame. I’ll probably use it to sign the piece with my initials and the date. I’ll draft that space up in GIMP and if necessary, add a couple of small motifs to fill out the area.
That will leave just the corners. Once I have all four I’ll decide on how to play them. I might go back and pick out the cornermost plume-flower at the upper right, then introduce some sort of sprout-off-the-corner-point motif for all four corners, mostly similar, but with slight adaptations to local conditions.
Yes, my bungie jump style of stitching did lead to an unbalanced piece, but I like it. The cupid-cockatrice count problem described in the last post actually did me a favor by introducing a bit of movement and unconventionality into the thing.
Now to just finish my Stupid Cupid Sampler, all the while dreaming up the next piece. Planned or improvised? Your guess at this point is as good as mine. But either way, my plans are rudimentary at best, and you won’t see me drafting out the entire thing stitch-by-stitch.
I’m still doodling on the Stupid Cupid sampler, having fun with some of the larger strip designs that will be in The Second Carolingian Modelbook.
As usual, I’ve leapt off into the deep end with no particular plan. I know that some people hyperventilate unless they have drafted out every stitch of a piece or are working from a fully graphed kit, but I have more fun improvising as I go. I have learned to leave myself as many options as possible as I work, so that I don’t “paint myself into a corner.” I’ll try to explain…
The first thing I did was standard prep. I like to hand-hem all four sides of my ground cloth, cutting off any skew-to-weave edges before I hem. I also lay down minimal guidance lines. At the minimum I will use a light color/barely visible standard sewing thread to baste a line of demarcation across both the horizontal and vertical center lines of the piece. Sometimes I also add a perimeter line, measured from the cloth’s edge, to mark the edge of the area to be worked. I don’t count the threads I go over as a baste (the basting stitches are not uniform in length), but they do follow the weave exactly. This gives me a nice, stable piece to work on, with pre-defined center points and stitching boundaries.
I pick a thread color (or colors) that work well with my ground. If multiples, I try to pick colors from stash that are in quantities that would allow me to make my selection on the fly, rather than limiting what can be done to fit what’s on hand. Depending on the size of my piece, the fragility of the threads to be used and whim, I drag out either my flat scrolling frame or my sit-upon round frame. In this case, I picked the green DMC floss (#890) I had left over from my tablecloth, to coordinate with the natural light brown of my linen.
Design Selection and Placement
Then I begin thumbing through my design notebooks and collections. Sometimes as I prep my ground, an idea of what to do is already forming. If it does, I may add some additional guidance lines to help reserve areas for words, or to further subdivide the available area – but to date I have never laid down a grid over the entire piece, nor have I ever outlined specific counted-out areas in which to place particular strips/fills/motifs. Others may wish to do those things, but I don’t find it necessary.
Once I find my first pattern, I decide where on the cloth I want it to go (top, bottom, centered, offset from the center a bit), find that design’s calculated or motif-visual center, and start. I always begin at one of my center lines and work from there.
Here’s the current piece at this stage of work.
You can barely see the pale blue threads that mark my centers and my margins. That “tail” hanging off the bottom of the piece is part of one. They don’t live long. I never stitch over them. As I encroach upon my marking lines, I pick them out and snip the about-to-be-crossed bits out.
At the point above, I hadn’t decided on what to put north and south of this bit. I hadn’t even decided up and down because this design is north/south symmetrical. And I wasn’t thinking yet of any framing mechanism. But that didn’t last long.
As you can see in the bit above, I decided on a second strip, and decided to separate them with a narrow barred border, stolen from the stems of the first pattern. I began adding the bars north and south, but not knowing what was coming next, or in fact where the roly-poly cupid/cockatrice bar would end relative to the first strip, held off adding them to the left and right.
And here I found my first problem. I had aligned the center of the vase between the first cupid and the cockatrice with the center of the symmetrical strip, above. But I didn’t notice that the areas bearing the figure and the creature were not of equal width. Because the cupid’s alcove is wider than the cockatrice’s, the left and right ends of that strip did not end neatly aligned to the area already worked.
What to do?
Ignore it and keep going.
So I did. I added the third major strip, the cupid/lion/fleeing boxer/dolphin panel. It’s a VERY wide repeat, with no exact center, but I aligned the visual center of the featured cupid with the already established center line.
Again, the design repeats, but the counts are not exact, so worked my piece left and right to a “good stopping point.” As I did so, I noted that the bottom strip would probably be the widest, so I added the bars left and right to finish out the frame around that section.
I then continued the bar north from the surround of the bottom strip. And encountered the second challenge. How to deal with the empty area to the left of the center strip?
I thought about several possibilities including finding a one-word motto to stitch vertically; continuing with the center strip design to fill out the area; or making this bug into a design feature. I chose the lattermost.
At the bottom left of the photo below you can see it. I continued my outer bar north, but added a second one, that defined a narrow strip. Then I improvised a standard acorn meander. I didn’t even bother to draw it out. I just found my center point, replicated an acorn from the top strip, and stitch-doodled up the linkage.
Then I took a stand-back look and decided that I didn’t want to add more strips to this piece. But a deeper, coordinating yet frilly outer companion border would work. So I flipped through my to-be T2CM collection and picked one out. I started in the north/south center of the left edge and stitched it until I got to the corner, then rounded the corner and continued on, spacing the edge of the first plume on the top roughly equally far away from the exact corner point as the bulk of the foliage on the left.
This time to fill in the empty space between my top stitched band and the newly established border(s), I decided to eke out the existing design. That’s what I have on-the-needle in the photo above.
Purists will note that I am using Heresy Stitch for the baseline of my frilly plumed border, rather than sticking to strict double running. I’m going back and adding a narrow border, using Heresy I can move along faster with minimal re-setting of my hoop.
Challenges yet to come….
- How will the plume border butt up against the three corners to come? Will I be able to round them as gracefully as this one?
- Will I go back and engineer some sort of corner treatment for the point of the plume border after I get all four done? Will I be able to use the same one for all four?
- The center strip is short on the right-hand edge, too – but not as short as on the left. Will I have room to add another supplemental bar and narrow border there? Will I do something else?
- Where will I sign and date this thing?
Now these burning issues may not seem like the epitome of suspense in your world. But in mine, they are fraught with danger and excitement.
At long last. Framed and hung up in the bedroom.
Obviously I now have to paint the bedroom walls…
I’m quite happy with the way this turned out. The frame is simple enameled steel, in deep navy. I ended up going to Walden Framer in Lexington, MA. Mr. Ed Pioli, the owner and artisan in chief, did an excellent job at a reasonable price. I will be bringing my other as-yet unframed pieces there, too.
To answer more questions on the piece’s composition, mostly from other people outside the framing shop when I was there. No, neither of us is a follower of astrology, and it’s not a panel depicting anyone’s sign. It’s just two koi, in a traditional arrangement. And no – there isn’t a boy-koi, and a girl-koi (or any other manifestation of yin/yang) intended. It’s just two koi swimming in a circle. And no, that’s not real gold thread. It’s high quality imitation gold sold for Japanese embroidery. And no, I didn’t sew it on a machine, I did it by hand. Really and truly. (People are curious about the strangest things.)
What am I working on now? Well, the Great Tablecloth/Napkins project is done, but I still itch to stitch. So I’m just doodling. Filling up a small piece of linen, waiting for the Inspiration Fairy to chuck a brick through my mental window.
I’ve written about this design before. I think this time I’ll circle the center panel with other, narrower bands. Again, no set plan, I’ll just pick them as I go along, with no composition agenda in particular in mind. Eventually I’ll figure out what to stitch next.
It’s taken me a week or so to get this post up and out. In the mean time my doodle has grown, but still has no plan.
The lower design is a curious one. Although it’s a clear repeat with the rather bulbous naked cherub alternating with the cockatrice, there is little symmetrical inside the repeat. Close attention has to be paid to this one because even the internal framing mechanism (the bar and beads below the feet of each) has a different counts in each of its two instances, and the usual urn or leafy unit between the creatures also exists in two incarnations. It’s a curious one, for sure, but fun, and is keeping me on my toes.
Both of these designs will be in T2CM, which is moving again towards release. No date yet, but watch this space.
Within a general miasma of the-project-is-over-what’s-next blues I present the tablecloth and napkins set:
Yes, I will iron the thing before I set a formal table with it, but there’s no point in doing it right now.
I left the areas close to the place settings bare so that in the absolute eventual occurrence of gravy spills, it will be easier to treat the stains.
Special thanks to Elder Daughter for these shots. She’s much better at general camera, even cellphone camera than I am.
I feel the need to keep stitching. If I can find my stash of green silk I may go back to my Long Green Sampler. But I put it away in a Safe Place; that classic Safe Place that is now out of memory. While I keep hunting for it I might do a quickie, improvised project, then turn it into something useful, like a carry bag or zippered pouches. So many patterns to try out, and so little wall space at this point.
Now in summary and project post-mortem.
I started by buying a plain pre-finished cloth and separate set of napkins from Wayfair.com. I wanted a “rustic linen look” and intended to use them as-is. But when they arrived I noted that the thread counts on both were close enough to even weave to be usefully stitched, slubs and all. I used a mix of threads – a red Sajou embroidery floss #2409, and DMC 890 green floss for the napkins; and (having run out of my souvenir Sajou) DMC 815 on the tablecloth. For the various flosses, I used three plies of both kinds, even though the Sajou was marginally thinner than the DMC.
I started with the napkins, doing one at a time, half red and half green, for no other reason than I thought it would be fun:
The designs are primarily from my ever-forthcoming Second Carolingian Modelbook. After the napkins were done, I wanted to make a coordinating cloth, similarly mismatched in the same two colors.
I started with the center panel design which I graphed up, also for T2CM, from an artifact in the collection of the University of Rhode Island. While it is voided here in the photo provided to me by Christine Lee Callaghan (SCA – Lady Cristina Volpina), I chose to work it outline-only for this piece.
Riffing on the motifs in the historical artifact, I designed a companion edging and end-triangles to complement. Those designs aren’t in T2CM, but as soon as it is released, I will post them here.
All in all, I am quite pleased with the result. Now to figure out what to stitch next, because I find stitching more relaxing than knitting, and the need to stitch is still upon me.
I have finished the center panel of my mismatched-napkin-accompanying tablecloth.
And on the table with the doodle napkins:
Now comes the hard part. I want to add some red to the cloth, to coordinate better with the napkins. I don’t want to stitch on the pre-hemmed “skirt” part of the cloth that hangs down from the table. Not only is the fake Italian hem quite deep and double thickness, but also I want the embellishments to show on the table top, and not be obscured by place settings. There are a couple of possibilities here.
- Subsidiary motifs “north and south” of the main panel:
2. Subsidiary motifs in the corners:
3. Another border, concentric to the main panel:
Not sure yet, but itching to design it and stitch it up, whatever it might be.
Why stick to original thoughts? This is what I’ve settled on for now. At least until I get enough done to let me see whether I like it or not.
I’m pretty far along with the tablecloth now, having completed the center panels, and most of the edging top and bottom. Now time to plan out the edging on the two narrow ends, left and right.
Being a bungee-jump stitcher, when I improvised the companion edging I did not bother to consider how wide it would have to be to repeat evenly across. I just went for it, figuring that because I started at the center, each corner would end more or less in the same place.
And when I got to the corners, lo and behold! They are spot on. Here are the three that are done, the other one is still in the frame.
So I’ve taken my border, looked at what’s been stitched, aligned the center of the border with the center of the main motif (and adjusted because the center in this case is a block unit, not a single stitch), and doodled up a juncture.
I’ve taken some liberties, joining the main motif to the side border – not a historically accurate practice – but since I am not making a historically accurate reproduction, why not? Also note the center. I’ve elongated the wrapped scepter motif used elsewhere in both the main and companion designs. We will see if I like it when it’s stitched up.
What’s after this?
I’m still thinking of adding secondary smaller medallions at either end of the cloth, in red. Another design, probably, but I have to either find or think one up that plays well with the established stitching.