As folk here knew, I’m one of the 57 contributors to the Ripple group-knit yarn bomb project, sponsored by the town’s art entities – the Arlington Commission on Arts and Culture, the Arlington Cultural Council, and Arlington Public Art.
Artist in Chief Adria Arch and Project Leader Cecily Miller did a fantastic job herding us cats (distracted as we all were by balls of yarn). At the project’s reception on Saturday we learned that a tiny whisper on Facebook netted them 70 volunteers, 57 of whom stuck with the project and worked with the palette and overall direction they established, to create individual pieces to clothe the trees in the bike path grove that Adria and Cecily picked out. The original plan was to garb about 6 or 7 trees. I believe the final count was something like 14 were outfitted.
And clothing the trees wasn’t easy, either. With constraints against harming them or affixing the pieces using tacks or staples, Adria and Cecily worked out an ingenious suspension system that relied on Velcro bands around the tree trunks, and used plastic cable ties to hang the knitted and crocheted pieces in place. The installation is to be temporary – up for just a few weeks – so there are no concerns about girdling or constricting the trees.
Even with the suspension system worked out, there were more challenges. The grove is located on a steeply sloped bank in between the Minuteman Bike Path and the town’s Spy Pond athletic field. The grade there is steeper than 45-degrees, making moving from tree to tree almost an act of mountaineering. Adria and Cecily engaged a local tree company to help. The arborists used ladders and climbing tackle to get 20 feet up on the trunks, to hang the artwork.
The result? Magical. In a dark area with dense canopy, colors bloom!
Amusingly enough, after these pieces were all installed, someone (as yet unknown) came by and added adorable mushrooms – as if the art has spontaneously reproduced:
Which pieces are mine?
These two. I’ll leave you the fun of spotting them among all of the others.
All in all, a ton of fun. Thanks to the organizers, the sponsors, and to my fellow crocheters and knitters. Also thanks to dear family friend Jean Clemmer, who would send holiday presents to the kids using yard-sale yarn as dual purpose “packing peanuts” and as a gift to me. Over the years I’ve used it to make Fishie Hats for my daughters, nieces and nephews; baby blankets for friends and family; and donated lots of it to Seniors’ day activities programs, and elementary school crafts closets. Some of the last of it went into these two pieces – the green, pale yellow, and lighter orange I used along with the group-issued blaze orange, magenta, pale turquoise and white.
Photo credits for all but the last two shots go to Alexandra Salazar, who unlike me, knows which end of the camera is which.
It’s the end of an era here at String Central. The sadly mangled, diseased, and ant-ridden street tree, a Norway Maple, in front of our house has been taken.
Here you see him before, in his final sickly days, already bearing The Dreaded Green Spot from the town arborist, marking him for terminal harvest.
When we moved in Tree was already teetering in health, with an extensive ant colony and other ailments. We did the best we could by him, and for a while at least, he did look a bit fuller and happier. But while we were out of the country in India, the utility company did some really horrible pruning, topping him and leaving the severed main trunk to rot. Although squirrels made their home in the resulting hollow, from that time Tree declined. Quickly.
Here’s today’s result, pix from Elder Daughter, who was on the spot (so to speak):
While it’s sad to lose the shade, we really haven’t had any in a couple of years. Plus Tree was dropping branches, and wobbled with a strong push – not a safe state in which to be.
With luck next year the town will remove the stump, and we will be able to file our request for Son of Tree.
Yup. We were there with everyone else on Boston Common, for the rally and march on 21 January. I knit hats that travelled to DC and Kansas City, too. These photos were taken by Elder Daughter, who knows her way around a camera. Sadly there are none of her, because she spent the day behind rather than in front of the lens.
First my favorite marcher of the day:
We arrived early, around 10:00, and found the common already full.
Elder Daughter plus friends Christine and Matt and I found a place to stand at the rear center on a small rise – close enough to hear and see the large screen, but not the speakers themselves.
Christine and Matt made us a nifty banner:
The crowd was upbeat and considerate, supportive and non-confrontational. There were no vendors outside the Common hawking tatty merchandise. A few groups produced and carried similar signage, but the vast majority of hats, shirts, sashes, banners, and signs were home-made. Some were quite funny, others strident – but all were from the heart:
There were so many people packed onto the Common that it took us almost two hours to walk the 30 yards from where we were standing back to the street. We set out on the march route, in roughly the first quarter of the people walking, and noted that by the time we completed the circuit at 4:00, there were still crowds exiting the Common, just starting out.
Elder Daughter’s best shot of the day, taken mid-march. The route was lined with people cheering, some on balconies:
The carillon in the Baptist Church we passed rang out We Shall Overcome, and the national anthem. There were at least two walking groups that accompanied themselves with music – a group made up mostly of Revolutionary War era re-enactors who brought fife and drum, and marched in cadence, wearing proper attire behind their own Phrygian-capped Lady Liberty. There was another group with steel drums whose beat was a bit more syncopated, and whose spirit could not be denied.
Police presence was benevolent and in many cases, charming. We saw more than one officer assisting the disabled, or taking photos of marchers for them. Heavy sand spreaders, and DPW construction and sanitation trucks were used to block side streets. While any barrier would have kept the march on course, those massive trucks were there to protect us from vehicle attack, with their drivers putting themselves in potential danger. We on the route noted this, and share special thanks to all the public safety personnel.
At the end, back on the Garden and Common, many people left their signs along a fence:
I am proud to have been part of this, and note that it is just the first step.
Involvement does NOT end with this march.
As ever, things have been very hectic here at String Central. Holidays, work obligations, family – you know the standard round of excuses. But that doesn’t mean that progress is not being made.
In no particular order, I present a subset of the accomplishments since the last post:
The Red Licorice pullover – finished. Amended slightly to meet the recipient’s specifications. Pix on this one are belated, since I gave it to the wearer who scuttled off with it before took photos of my own. I’ll go back and update this post when the pix come in, but I’ve held back publishing this long enough.
Six Pussyhats for the upcoming marches.
The now standard run of ten types of holiday cookies:
If you must know, clockwise from the top, they are coconut macaroons dipped in dark chocolate; chocolate chips; chocolate crinkles (aka Earthquakes); peanut butter, stamped with suns; hazelnut spritz with chocolate ganache filling (aka Oysters); raspberry jam filled vanilla wafers; Mexican wedding cakes; lemon cut-outs; bourbon/cocoa balls; and iced spice spritz cookies. In the center is homemade fudge, with and without hazelnuts. I also did two panfortes. Recipes for any/all available on request
And of course there were latkes (this year done in goose fat):
And of course over the three-holiday-week there were the donor goose; some heavenly fish quenelles (think gossamer gefilte fish and you would not be far wrong); a fantastic cassoulet made with duck confit we put up back in the summer; leek and potato soup; a home-made paté/terrine type loaf; our own sourdough bread; and an amazing spread of cheeses. Most of the heavy lifting cooking was done by The Resident Male.
We’re still eating the cheeses – there was so much that was (and still is) SO good. Thanks again to Cheese Gifters, Kim and Mike; and a shout-out to the Cheese Makers, Jonathan and Nina at Bobolink Dairy. If you love well-crafted, delicious cheese and have not tried theirs, you are missing out.
Along the way, I also started a couple more projects. First – curtains for the library. I’ve been threatening to do it for years, and have the linen and trim on hand, the trim being one of the embroidered things I treated myself to in India:
I’ve done all the calculations, pre-washed the linen, and ironed out the first panel of four. I’ve also obtained and pre-shrunk the lining. Next is to calculate placement of the trim and stitch it on to the first panel, prior to doing final assembly and hemming. I intend to use rings to hang the panels, from black iron or iron-look rods. Those will either be clip- or pin-type, so tabs are not needed. Parking these mysterious secret sauce numbers here for future reference (90, 10, 3).
And having finished the sweater and hats, I embark on another knitting project – Sandra’s Shawl, pattern by Sandra Oakeshott. This one features lots and lots of nupps – little multi-stitch bobbles. I am not a fan of making them, so instead of the nupps, I’m using beads. I’m using some really intense variegated green Zauberball Lace yarn (pix shamelessly borrowed from unrelated retail website):
And the beads are silver tone. As you can see, I’m already well into this one, past the unadorned center and out into the infinity rows where the beaded fun happens:
I can say that the pattern is well-crafted and easy to follow. I suggest putting markers at the beginning and end of the pattern repeat, to segregate out the edges in which the design is a bit perturbed by the increases required for shawl shaping. Some may wish to use markers between each pattern repeat, but I found it wasn’t necessary for me – the thing is easy to proof visually as one knits. And I most heartily recommend the use of beads rather than the fiddly nupps. Apologies to the designer, of course for using a non-traditional/alternative interpretation of her excellent pattern.
We’re in the final glide path to high school graduation here, plus birthdays. We spent the weekend cleaning and gardening like crazy – and there’s still a ton to do.
That means removing a frosting of construction dust from every surface of the house; unpacking and placing the remaining kitchen goods (sorting out stuff to save for future spawn-apartments, or for charitable donation); washing all the floors; replacing the rugs stowed away from the chaos; waking up the garden from winter doldrums; building the new bean trellis out of last year’s giant grass canes; planting the beans; attacking the colonizing blanket of unwelcome weeds in the flower beds; staking the peonies; scrubbing down the bathrooms (similarly affected by construction dust); and generally putting everything to order. We didn’t finish, but we put a huge dent in it all. That means no time spent on detailed photography of the new orderly and in-service kitchen, and precious little time on needlework or knitting (although I did finish the last of my stack of Birthday (and Un-Birthday) socks in time). Plus the normal weekend regimen of cleaning and cooking for the ensuing week. I am now exhausted just tallying it all up.
Here is what I can report photographically.
The kitchen works! This is old news already – The Resident Male making short ribs last weekend:
Younger Daughter and The Denizen got all decked out for the Senior Prom. The went with a herd of friends, and had a great time.
And we had an amazing joint birthday cake – home-baked, of course, courtesy of Younger Daughter. She used the America’s Test Kitchen Salted Caramel Chocolate Cake recipe in her first trial run of the new ovens. Oh, so good!
Apologies for silence at this end. Things have been a bit unsettled here at String. The holidays came and went, with their obligatory cookies:
Foods were cooked for the appropriate occasions, including cassoulet, latkes, boned-out stuffed ducks, panforte, ham, roast beef, and all sorts of sides. Gifts were obtained and exchanged. Wine and champagne were consumed. Visitors popped by. Spawn were supported as they wrestled with college application deadlines. And The Resident Male (TRM) had his hip replaced. He’s well on the road to recovery, and is delighted to be regaining utility that he had thought lost forever. Warning to his golfing pals – by the Spring, he’ll be back in training and itching to test out the new equipment, to see what it can do for his swing. But as you can see, the interval since my last post, although long, has been a tad hectic.
Even on the project end, I haven’t had time for as much as I planned. Between working from home part time and the rest of the laundry list, above, plus standard household stuff like shoveling, I didn’t get a chance to sew the the new curtains for the library that I had planned as my end-of-year break effort. I’ve also set aside the Mixed Wave Cowl for Elder Daughter, and didn’t get started on some other holiday knitting or needlework. Those things were derailed by a request from TRM to knit up a pair of socks as a post-surgical gift. So I am now trying to motor through a pair in very boring grey fingering weight. They will be enlivened by a design on the ankle – probably something skeletal and hip-like, worked in Intarsia. Here you see them, with the feet and half of the heel complete, almost up to the motif area; two rather dull, shapeless grey blobs.
To do Intarsia on the ankles of these toe-up in-the-round socks, I’ll cheat. After the heel is finished I’ll split the rounds at the center back, and work both socks flat. Since I’m doing them now side by side using two circs, I’ll re-assort the stitches onto one circ and continue, to guarantee uniform length and design placement.
How do I like the two-circ method for knitting a pair of socks at the same time? Frankly, not much.
I find I am actually faster at five DPNs because I don’t have to stop and fiddle at the end of each half round to retrieve the correct needle end, and I don’t have to pause to untangle twisted feeds from two balls of yarn (or both ends of the same ball). But the idea here was to use this project to try something new to me that so many others recommend, and to ensure the hard-to-count charcoal color yarn produced two socks of the same size and length. On the latter, I have to give kudos to the two-circ method. No actual counting – just keep on and you are guaranteed uniform products.
So here we are. January has been achieved. All sorts of seasonal and special-case speed bumps have been successfully traversed. Bring on the rest of the year. After December 2015, I can handle anything.
Aside from the weakness for yarn common to all knitters, I don’t often spoil myself buying things for my own use. But given just a nudge, I have given in and have treated myself to two things:
A Hardwicke Manor sit-on round frame (aka a fanny frame), and a tambour needle set (not shown in proportion to each other).
I’ve wanted to try the round sit-on frame for quite a while. I like using my flat frame on its holder. Doing so allows me to position one hand above and one hand below the work, and stitch more efficiently, without needing to conjure a third hand to hold the frame in place.
For smaller pieces in non-fragile threads and stitches, I do prefer to use the smaller hoop though. But using it does raise those same third-hand issues. I am eager to experiment with the sit-on, and hope that I don’t miss the agility of being able to rotate the hoop in hand for optimal stitching direction at the same time as I appreciate having both hands free to work.
A fixed position frame is one of the things that enables use of a tambour needle. Again, one hand uses the needle on one side of the work, the other is positioned on the opposite side, and feeds thread to the hook, using up my quotient of hands before holding the frame in a convenient position is achieved.
I looked for a tambour hook in India. One would think that given the staggering array of tambour-produced textiles there, finding one would be easy. Indian Ari hooks are (in theory) slightly longer and finer in diameter than hooks made for the Western market. Sadly, I never saw one myself. In my region there were few shops that offered needlework supplies, and the ones that I found catered to ladies of leisure rather than people doing embroidery to make a living. Clerks in those shops either didn’t understand what I wanted (although I was armed with the correct name and drawings); or they didn’t carry them because they were “working” rather than “leisure” tools.
What sort of things are embroidered using an Ari? The overwhelming majority of stitched textiles offered in traditional crafts markets. Not all – running stitch quilting, satin stitch, poorly done Shisha, and pattern darning were also present, but tamboured pieces that looked like chain stitch predominated, especially in the better quality works that interested me most. Here’s a smattering of what we brought back:
The cushion cover on the left that we had made into the chair seat is densely stitched in wool on a cotton backing. I believe it’s from Kashmir.
Also from Kashmir is the rug in the center. Yes – that’s 6’ x 9’ (1.8 x 2.7 meters), totally stitched in tamboured cotton, with no ground showing. I had it professionally cleaned when we returned from India because it had been in daily use there. I’m not sure where we will eventually put it, so it’s rolled up in safe storage right now.
The third thing is our Dodo Curtain – a large cotton panel covered in tamboured metal threads, with probably man made silk (rayon) accents and paillettes. It’s covered with roundels featuring this bird, giving it a very Medieval appearance. I have plans to back this cloth with linen, then hang it as a portiere curtain between my living and dining rooms. We got this piece in Agra, but its ultimate province of origin wasn’t noted.
The jacket is also Kashmiri. It’s fine Pashmina, entirely tambour-worked using the same fiber. Even the plackets and hems that look like trim are densely packed tambour chain. This is probably the most extravagant thing The Resident Male bought for me on our stay, and wearing it makes me feel like royalty.
A side trip into literature and symbolism for those who wish to hang around for such things:
Some folk have told me that my curious dodo hanging may show the Garuda Bird, the king of birds, champion of justice, and celestial mount of Lord Vishnu, but I am doubtful. The noble Garuda is usually shown in with wings outspread, robust and fearless, often with a human face and limbs.
These big-beaked, comfortably round, bald birds, if not dodos, may represent vultures.
There are several vultures in Hindu epics. One is the mount of the deva Shani, revered as a teacher and righteous judge, punishing evildoers and betrayers. But Shani’s mount is rarely pictured alone. Other famous vultures in the story cycles appear in the Ramayana – two brothers, Jatayu and Sampaati. They figure in several tales, including one that echoes aspects of the Icarus myth, with Jatayu flying so high he was seared by the sun, but rescued by his loyal and courageous brother Sampaati who used his own wings to shield Jatayu from the sun’s fury. Unlike Icarus, Jatayu survived, and is not a symbol of the folly born of overconfidence. Jatayu also plays a supporting role in the story of Sita’s abduction by the demon Ravana, flying to Rama with news of Ravana’s escape route.
One last possibility – dodos were giant flightless parrots. If these birds are parrots, we veer off from justice and bravery into the worlds of compassion and love.
Origin stories vary, but Sukadeva was a parrot, and pet of the gods, particularly befriended by Krishna, who showed mercy and compassion to it when Sukadeva fluttered away from his mistress Radha. I’m not clear on the relationship between that story and others, but Sulka the parrot is often painted in henna on the feet of brides, in recognition of his service as the sacred mount of Kamadva (also known as Mandan and Mara) the god of sensual love.
While not as lofty as Garuda, if my dodos are the vulture brothers, they are still exemplars of bravery and self-sacrifice. However, if the bird shown is Sulka, the connection with love might make my curtain more apt for the bedroom than the dining room.
Where have I been?
Since the last post, admittedly almost two months ago, we’ve been re-nesting here in Arlington. The Resident Male returned from India, having done the final closeout of our apartment there, shipped our goods home, and said his goodbyes to friends and co-workers. He and I ran away for a second week on Cape Cod. We re-enrolled Younger Daughter in high school. Elder Daughter and I embarked on job searches. Our household shipment from India arrived, and we started the Great Unpacking. I landed in a great job at CyPhy Works, and have embraced again the daily commute, this time with an added morning detour to the gym.
Now the school year has begun, and we’re almost back on normal routine. There are still pockets of disorder in our living and dining rooms that we are slowly addressing. Our India-bought rugs are back from being cleaned, and are now laid out in their new home. Our kitchen goods have been sorted, with some stowed against future need, and others (like the rolling pin and round cutting/rolling platform hand-made by Driver Rupesh’s father) installed for immediate use. And the chair is back, with the seat cushion redone.
You may remember the chair, with its shoddy seat of fraying satin over a cheese-like block of squishy foam, purchased from Just Antiques in Pune:
Arlington furniture specialists Upholstery on Broadway took the wool tambour embroidered cushion cover I bought in Pune for this purpose, edged it out in brown ultrasuede and crafted this look:
I’m very happy with the result. The curves of the stitched leaves echo the curves of the repurposed carved window treatment that makes up the chair’s back and sides. And it’s quite comfy, too.
What’s on tap now? Dealing with that remaining disorder, craftily kept just off camera in the shot above; settling into the new routine; finishing Swirly – the big lap blanket; and finishing up The Second Carolingian Modelbook. More on all of this in future posts. And I promise you won’t wait two months to hear from me again.
Now that we’ve been home for a few weeks, I can say that there are things I miss about India. One of them is our friend and driver Rupesh. We had lots of occasion to chat with him as we sat in traffic. He was our guide and intermediary to a new culture; his questions and his answers to our own questions made us think.
One conversation we had early on was about our “native place.” Most Indians have one – an ancestral village or neighborhood where their relatives still live, and to which they return. Having a native place is a vital link beyond kinship to its residents – it’s an attachment to the actual area and the land itself. People are intensely proud of their native places, and follow everything that affects those places with great interest, even if they themselves are living in a city, far away.
Rupesh spoke with great affection about his native place, describing the house he grew up in, the retirement house his parents were building there, village life,his family, and the crops grown in his family’s various small fields. Then he asked me about mine. Where was it? What was it like? What grew there?
I admit I was at a loss. Like many rootless urban Americans, we have no single place for the family to call home.
I suppose technically speaking, an avenue row house in Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn New York would be my native place. We lived there until I was a teen, around the corner from one grandparents’ house and about 10 minutes away from the other.
The shot at right is as it looks now on Google Maps – not quite the same as I remember, but even digitally, one can’t turn back time. Rupesh would be disappointed to know that very little grew there, at least not by the time my family lived there. Truck garden farms and horse stables for the local race track had long since been paved over and subdivided into attached houses.
While I have deep memories of Brooklyn, walking to school and the neighborhood in which I lived, I have no particular attachment to it. I barely remember the people I went to school with, and have not been back there in a good 30 years.
Next we lived in Teaneck, New Jersey. That lasted from middle school through high school. Again, an inner suburb, not quite as dense as Brooklyn, but long divorced from being anything other than a bedroom community. I do have fond memories of several school friends, and am debating attending an upcoming high school reunion. For agriculture, I did once try to grow carrots in the back yard. I got leafy tops, but no roots. So both I and the vegetables have no special ties to that little plot, either. My mom no longer lives there, so there’s no compelling reason to return.
After that I went off to college, and a wild array of ever-changing dorm rooms. Nothing much settled down in the immediate post-college years, either. I bounced from one Boston area entry level apartment to another, sharing the places with roommates or roaches. Usually both.
I wouldn’t call any of these residences home, let alone my special native place.
Eventually I ended up in Washington D.C., jobs being more plentiful there than in Boston in the early 1980s. I will be forever grateful to the friends who let me couch surf in their tiny apartment for five months before I established myself and could afford to move to my own flat. Fernando and I married and he joined me in my war against vermin in this College Park, Maryland building.
Getting closer, but still no nostalgia. We moved to get away from the Roach Motel, and resettled in Washington, D.C. itself, in a small apartment village in Takoma Park. It was pleasant, although not air conditioned in the D.C. heat, and an easy walk to the subway, the dojo and many of our friends. The best part was the low rent, which allowed us to save up to buy our first non-apartment home.
We are now inching up on Rupesh’s concept of attachment. We worked hard on the house in Lanham, Maryland, and made very good friends with a neighbor, with whom we remain in touch to this day. Our elder daughter was born here. Through hard work, we tamed the muddy back yard and grew lots of flowers – cannas, mums, day lilies, Asian lilies, hollyhocks, marigolds, and others. I’d consider this to be our first real home.
Better jobs beckoned, and we returned to Massachusetts.
We did a lot of research and ended up buying our next home in Arlington – a tiny 1950s era ranch. Again, we did a lot of work on the house and grounds, finishing out the basement, making a garden in the back. I attempted cucumbers, garlic and herbs, with equivocal success. Younger daughter was born here, and we quickly grew out of the the place.
We liked Arlington, so we ended up staying here in town, but in a larger home – a 1912-vintage arts and crafts style stucco bungalow. We’ve been here for about 8 years now, and are still making improvements to it, slowly turning back 80 years of semi-neglect. We dabble in gardening, and have grown strawberries, climbing beans, and onions.
Now, with all of these places I’ve lived in over the years (and mind you, I’ve omitted quite a few short term spots), it’s no wonder I was cast into thought about the meaning of having a “native place.” Both Fernando’s and my parents no longer live in the houses in which we grew up. We have no links back to any of our old neighborhoods. Our siblings, friends, and distant family are similarly scattered all over the US (with a few overseas).
I had the impression that Rupesh felt slightly sorry for us and slightly confused by my answers, because we really had no geographic center of identity, attachment and affection. I am quite fond of our current home. Perhaps that may qualify as our native place now, but I prefer to think of this family as carrying our native place with us. My roots are shallow and easily transplanted. Although I love this house, if I had to go elsewhere, I would move. My identity is built more on my family’s ethical and moral legacy, what I have made myself into, what I have done, and what we as our own nuclear family have become.
So I guess my native place is my own dinner table. Wherever that may happen to be.
Sorry folks. This has nothing to do with anyone’s search for companionship. Be warned, it’s all about embroidery, and this is a post that only a stitching geek will love.
As I fill out the last few pages of The Second Carolingian Modelbook, I’ve decided to take a stab at a design that seems to be everywhere. Except modelbooks, that is. I call it “Pelican with Harpies and an Urn.” It is one of a set of patterns that crops up again and again in museum holdings worldwide, most often as a fragment. It’s clear that unlike many other snippets, these all came from different works, often executed in different styles or stitching media. I’ve posted about this before, but my collection of examples continues to grow, and with it, the general confusion level.
The dilemma comes in because (to my knowledge) there is no existing printed pattern to establish a point of temporal or geographic origin. But there are lots of examples and they all express the details of the design slightly differently. Now if there was an authoritative point source that became unavailable, one would expect later iterations to be less detailed, or details to become blurred, through succeeding generations of copyist errors. We can see that with the oft-studied “boxers” sampler motif in Colonial American samplers – which probably started out as a cherub bearing a flower, but over time became less specific and more stylized, until what remained was a barely discernable chubby humanoid with a club fist. But I can’t arrange the Pelican/Harpy/Urn designs in an ironclad continuum of graduated detail.
Here’s the parade. The thumbnails are not clickable, please visit the links to see the museums’ higher resolution images.
CH-1. First is this example from the Cooper-Hewitt’s collection (Accession 1931-66-144). They date it as being a 17th century work, but do not offer a provenance. It’s done in silk on linen, with a characteristic tightly drawn background that produces the appearance of mesh, but does not involve withdrawn threads. Details are rendered in straight stitches, and may include double running or back stitch (it’s hard to tell without seeing the reverse). The museum acquired it in 1931, as a gift from Sarah Cooper Hewitt.
CH-2. The Cooper-Hewitt has another example (Accession 1931-66-142). This one is specifically called out as being Italian, and is also dated to the 17th century. It’s a particularly prime piece because it is a full span cut across the end of the towel, cover or cloth it came from. We see the orientation, the top and bottom borders, and how the slightly different side borders framed the work. The museum acquired it in 1931, also as a gift from Sarah Cooper Hewitt.
HERM-1. The Hermitage Museum has two examples. This one is entitled “Valence Embroidered with a Grotesque Motif (fragment),” but the on line page has no accession number. The full description calls out the linear stitching as being double running (Holbein), and the background as being drawn thread. They attribute it to Italy, and the 16th century. The museum got this piece in 1923, via the Stieglitz School, and ultimately from D. Flandin, an antiquarian dealer in Paris.
MET-1. Yet another example in the same style. This one is from the Metropolitan Museum of Art (Accession 14.134.16a). The MET cites it as being Italian, and 17th century. Although this one is at a different museum, and is clearly not a separate piece of either artifact, there’s a connection with the two above. It was acquired in 1914, via the Frederick C. Hewitt Fund.
HERM-2. On to another stitching style. “Valence Embroidered with a Grotesque Motif” from the Hermitage also has no listed accession number. This piece is lacis (darned filet net). It’s dated 16th century and placed in Italy. Although filet work doesn’t allow for the linear details of the red examples above, it’s amazing how much fidelity to the design can be included. Like the other Hermitage piece, it entered their collection via the Stieglitz School Museum in 1923, but came from the collection of J. Kraut, in Frankfurt-am-Main.
MET-2. More stitched net, and not another piece of the one above. This one is also from the MET (Accession 06.582). It’s cited as being Spanish, from the 17th century. This piece was acquired in 1906, via the Rogers Fund.
First of all, I’d agree that the source for these was probably Italian, regardless of where the final objects were collected from. I’d also agree that very late 16th century, but more probably the early 17th century is reasonable for the whole pattern family based on the style, usages, media, and iconography, plus parallels to other contemporary designs.
CH-1 presents the most detailed urn and pelican of the set. Both are encrusted with small linear features, although the placement of those features is not always symmetrical, nor is it identical from repeat to repeat. Feathers on the harpy’s body are shown in neat rows, but her wing feathers are very stylized, using right angles rather than diagonals. I’m unsure what she’s holding – a cup or panpipes (perhaps a fancy on my part, to think of that flower as the music of the pipes). From the patterning, it’s clear that the thing across her middle is her tail, wrapped up from between her legs.
It’s hard to see clearly, but there are lots of differences between the urns and pelicans in CH-1 and CH-2 (blurry pix above). It’s clear that both have less detail. But one of Mother Pelican’s chicks has moved up near her bent head, and another now floats over her back. The nest detail seen in CH-1 is now symmetrical right and left at the top of the urn, instead of looking like leaves on one side, and scrolls on the other. The sprouts on either side of the urn’s bulbous body have changed attachment points, and now hang down, instead of growing up as pomegranates.
CH-2’s harpy has retained her hairdo, but her wings are a bit more gracefully rendered, employing 45-degree angles to round off some of the shapes. Her feathers are more evenly spaced, but her tail is less pronounced, and whatever small markings covered her haunches have been lost in favor of more, smaller feathers. The thing she’s holding has lost its hatching, and now looks more like a cup than panpipes. She has also inherited another wayward pelican chick.
MET-1’s urn is in between the other two in terms of detail. The nest/scroll unit at the top underneath the big pelican has transformed into a chick. The stitcher chose not to fill in the background in the loop defined by the pelican’s neck. There is something unidentifiable between the pelican’s legs, and her fathers are somewhat simplified compared to CH-1. The lower ornament is again descending from the bowl of the urn as leaves, rather than rising from the base.
The harpy too has changed a bit. In this case, I’d say the sipped/sounded thing has parted company from the hand, and now looks more like panpipes, vaguely supported rather than held. She’s gotten a bit more balloon-like, and her breast feathers now march row by row. Her wings however have gotten a bit stunted, and return to a stepwise rendering similar to CH-1, but slightly more clumsy. The tail is suggested, and the haunches have been returned to stippling rather than feathers.
OK. It’s clear that detail is going to be lost when you move from ornamented surface stitching to the negative/positive lacy mesh look of the all-white technique. But even so, a tremendous amount has been preserved. We see the plumage of Mother Pelican, and even some details on her brood (she’s managed to gather three of them together on top of the urn). Her nest is symmetrical. The urn preserves the shapes and proportions of the red stitched pieces, and has grown back the two small pomegranates that grow from the base.
The harpy too preserves a lot of detail, down to the proportions and shapes of its flight feathers, and a bit of the detail inside of the wing. She’s lost some weight, although her hairdo is less detailed. Breast feathers are present, as is a pretty clearly defined tail. Stippling on the haunches looks different from the breast plumage, and her feet are now nicely shaped lion paws.
The final example, MET-2, the Spanish piece, is a bit simplified. The harpy is less prominent, and the largest space is given over to the urn and pelican, and to the foliate ornament between the repeats. Mother Pelican’s brood is more suggested than rendered, although her feathers are nicely done. The urn has the two upward growing pomegranates emerging from the base.
The harpy’s cup/instrument has become less detailed. It’s unclear what it might be. Her feathers have given way to geometric ornament, and her tail is suggested in shadow rather than being clearly defined. Her wings are somewhat like the Hermitage example’s, though. It’s worth noting that her proportions and body shape are more like CH-1 than the other examples.
One other thing that’s of interest is the presence of the little filled boxes that bead the motif’s edges. You can see them along the curve of the pelican’s neck, along the harpy’s breast, and lower legs. They give a lacier appearance to the composition. I also find little protrusions like this to be extremely valuable as I stitch my motifs because they help me confirm counts and stay true to the design. Note that they are absent in the other renditions.
Now, having our fill of urns and harpies, what can we say about them?
It’s obvious that there is an as-yet unidentified but unifying source for this design. I posit that there might originally have been a broadside or model sheet that showed the composition. I guess that it may have been on the count, and that its broad outlines were used to establish the placement of the main design elements. But I don’t believe that it was followed exactly. Instead I think each stitcher used it to establish the first iteration of the design, filling in the details and roughly eyeballing their placement, taking inspiration rather than ironclad direction from the model. Once the first repeat was worked, subsequent repeats and mirrorings were copied from that, with no more call to look at the original. That’s why the baby birds wander around, while the relatively easy to place urn decoration remains more stable.
Because of the different media and slightly different interpretations of the pattern (especially the pomegranates on the urn, and some differences I didn’t detail in the filler between the main motifs), my guess is that the same design branched into two slightly different but recognizable pattern “traditions,” which in turn spawned child works of their own. One of those traditions (marked by the upward pomegranates) made the leap from surface work to darned net.
Now. Which came first? I can’t say. On intuition alone I’d go with the fat, balloon-bodied harpy (MET-1) being later than CH-1, and the two white filet pieces belonging to the same “tradition” as CH-1. That leaves MET-1 and CH-2 as child works of the other branch.
Which came first? What chronological order can be used for these pieces? Aside from these idle thoughts, your guess is as good as mine. If you’ve managed to make it this far, please feel free to differ. Without detailed analysis or forensic investigations into fiber and dye, we’re all just speculating, anyway.