Category Archives: Blather

A WEALTH OF POSSIBILITIES

Progress and some potentials to report. First the progress:

I’m closer to finishing the initial seaming of the eyeball squares for the bolster cushion. Here are all of them. The group indicated by the yellow brackets on top is the front. It’s 12×4 units, all sewn together. The group in the yellow brackets at the bottom of the page is the back. I’ve just begun sewing the last course of 12 onto the other three.

Then there are the loose piles between the front and back, and to the right of the back. Those are the squares that will make up the sides. That’s another two strips of 12, and two strips of four. After I finish the seams on the back I will assemble those strips. After that will come an orgy of darning in ends. Once all six pieces are neatly finished off I will begin final assembly. I intend to sew the side strips in sequence – long-short-long (leaving one short side out briefly) with the same slip stitch method I used for the front and back. But when I unite the side strips to the front and back I will use a knit-based method rather than a crocheted one. I intend to use knit-on I-Cord edging as my seaming method, to make what will look like a piped edge, to make a green “frame” for the front and back. Somewhere along the way I will introduce a hand-stitched zipper into one short end, which is the reason for reserving that last short side.

I’ve done the I-Cord edging before to excellent effect on pillows. The one in front uses it. (I won’t be doing the free-loop corners though on this piece.)

This is the general look I’m aiming for. This is a bench-type cushion I built and covered for a storage settee that’s now on our enclosed front porch. This piece was sewn, and that corded piping was introduced with it was seamed together.

For the record, this cushion was built in the same way I intend to build the eyeball bolster – a slab of foam, wrapped in quilt batting, seamed into a permanent cover. But the eyeball bolster will have an additional removeable inside cover between the crochet and the permanent cushion. Crochet by its nature is rather see-through, with lots of small holes. The inner, removeable cover will be a heavy black cotton duck or canvas. Removeable just in case something is spilled on the bolster. It along with the decorative crochet cover will both be washable.

So even though I am almost done with eyeball assembly there’s still a lot of work to go on this piece.

Now on to other possibilities.

Thanks to the generosity of a long time friend, I find myself in possession of a set of twelve magnificent linen napkins. Never used. I had lucked into a similar but well-loved set of twelve at an estate sale this summer. I now have double the possibilities. First, both are eminently stitch-able:

The unused napkins are on the left, and the well worn ones are on the right. Counting threads and doing the math for the Penny Method the approximate thread count for the new set is roughly 40×40, and the old set is about 38×38 threads. Small, yes, but not impossibly so.

Now what to make….

I have many thoughts on this. First is the obvious, just embellishing one of the sets for obvious use as napkins. I’ve thought about doing a set with a big initial S in one corner, but each done in a different antique alphabet. This is a prime source for alphabets as magnificently ornate and over the top as anyone could desire.

The second possibility is a pieced tablecloth. There are all sorts of Renaissance examples of tablecloths and devotional pieces pieced together, some probably re-using earlier stitched fragments, others purpose-done. Some unite countwork pieces with darned net strips, others combine cutwork and other contemporary embroidery forms. Much to think about here and a lot of potential learning.

A third possibility also looms, for the well-used napkin pile. I have wanted to stitch a peasant style blouse for myself, using some of the more outre strip designs in my personal collection. Like dinos, for example. I am not quite sure how I would go about it, but I think with cleverness I could get a square yoke out of one or two napkins, a gathered body below that, and full 3/4 sleeves, also gathered. I have to mock this idea up with tissue paper to see if I have enough yardage, but I should.

I guess the moral of the story is that retirement is not idleness!

A BUSY DECEMBER

One of my periodic “where did I go” posts, reporting on everything and sundry that kept me from regular blogging.

Baking

First because I know there are cookie fiends out there just waiting for this year’s round-up, I present Cookie Plate 2022, arranged on the fused glass bison presentation dish given to us by my sister and brother in law. I use it in tribute to the resilience of my Buffalo, NY family and friends, enduring their second (and twice as bitter) lash of winter weather since Thanksgiving. May the lights and heat stay on and may the driveway finally learn to shovel itself!

Starting from the yellow and blue stars just above the bison’s head we have:

  1. Keto cutouts. I used this recipe this year, no “real” flour or sugar. I did make two enhancements, though. I put finely grated lemon zest in the cookie batter, and mixed the icing using powdered monkfruit based sweetener with lemon juice (and a dash of food coloring). Light and lemony. This dough worked relatively well for the simple star shapes, but it’s a bit on the cakey and fragile side, and would not be at its best if used for a cookie cut with an elaborate design, or with one of the plunger-style cutters that also embosses an impressed design. The icing too was a bit harder to handle than the confectioners’ sugar standard.
  2. Mexican Wedding Cakes. I subbed the monkfruit sweetener inside and used about a third almond flour in place of the regular all-purpose flour in this recipe, but dusted with confectioners’ sugar because the substitute doesn’t do that well for dusting. So I’d call these slightly slimmed down, but not keto.
  3. Keto peanut butter cookies. Last year’s recipe turned out rather poorly, so I tried a new one this year. Better results. Still a bit cakey-crumbly, but the taste and texture are better.
  4. Earthquakes, the name by which what most folk call chocolate crinkles are known in this house. Again not much seismic cracking this year, but the brownie-bite taste and texture were spot on. The usual recipe. Full octane – no slimming.
  5. Cinnamon bun swirls. This one is a specialty of the Younger Offspring. Clever fingers and exacting methods make those mathematically perfect spirals. These instructions but we skip the recipe author’s icing, The cookies are sweet enough as-is. Hint for avoiding the flat-tire look – slide the long rolls of this refrigerator cookie dough into the cardboard tubes from paper towels. They firm up nicely round without flattening that way.
  6. Triple Ginger White Chocolate Chip. My own invention. I love these, even though they are not chocolate. 🙂 I did slim these down a bit by using monkfruit brown sugar replacement instead of the real stuff. But the white chocolate chips probably make up for that little bit of virtue.
  7. Bourbon Balls. A family standard that I’ve made every year since I began baking holiday cookies from recipes more or less like this one. Since they start with crushed Nilla wafers and have a cup of bourbon in them they will never be full keto, but I did slim them a bit with sugar substitute. Note that these are also good with many other nut/cookie/liquor combos, with or without the cocoa. Chocolate wafer cookies/pecans/Chambord. Almond biscotti/almonds/amaretto. Nillas/hazelnuts/rum. One hint – they improve with long curing. Make these up right after Thanksgiving and put them in a tightly sealed tin. Then hide them until the end of December. Your forbearance in not gobbling them down right away will be rewarded.
  8. Jam thumbprints. Another contribution of Younger Offspring. This time the clever fingers fashioned heart shape wells, which were then filled with raspberry jam. A very buttery and light shortbread compliments that fruity goodness. Full octane. When I extract the recipe from the cookie artist I will post it here, but by the time this last cookie was baked, I was distracted and didn’t make a note of the source.
  9. French cocoa macarons with almond buttercream filling. Oh so good, and oh so sinful. Again Younger Offspring steps up to bat with authentic technique off a memorized recipe. Even the almond paste-based buttercream was extemporary. Obviously the Padawan has far surpassed the teachers.
  10. Chocolate chunk. This one started with the traditional old school Nestle’s Toll House original recipe (the one that still called for 1/8 tsp of water). No slimming and no nuts in this one, but about a third of the weight of chocolate chips was replaced by Trader Joes’ Cocoa Nibs. The remaining chocolate was chopped cold, making lots of chocolate dust, and tiny fragments. That really helps the flavor distribute itself throughout the whole cookie. The big hint on this one (aside from chopping) is to fridge the batter overnight, and roll it into uniform size balls rather than employing the two spoon/drop method. Much more uniform results.
  11. Yes there are 11 this year. We couldn’t cut a family fave to make the goal of ten. My Oysters. A simple hazelnut spritz with whipped bittersweet chocolate ganache filling. Slimmed a bit by using monkfruit sugar instead of about half of the regular white sugar, and a third almond flour instead of 100% all purpose flour, but it’s hard to call these virtuous.

I also made a keto lemon-chocolate swirl cheesecake, with a hazelnut/almond flour crust. I forgot to take a picture of that, and now it’s gone.

Not Baking

Aside from cookies, I had some knitting and crochet projects going.

First, as a favor to my mom, an old school knitter from the days of Knitting Ladies who sat by your elbow throughout design selection, customization, swatching, and execution to gauge. I didn’t do those earlier stage support functions but I did do the last and most important one – finishing. Taking the individually full-fashion knit pieces, seaming them together and adding final details like collars. Mom had completed but had not assembled two sweaters, intended for my nieces. I helped those projects over the goal. Both are adult size. Now that they’ve been bestowed, I can break silence and post them here.

Also with almost all of the squares complete, I have begun assembly for the I’ll Be Watching You sofa cushion.

More on this as I get more strips put together. Note that some rethinking happened. Due to color assortment challenges, we added two more units to the mix to make 12 individual color layouts, and upped the cushion width from 11 to 12 units. Needless to say that required a few more squares than I originally planned.

Other Accomplishments

Let’s see. I visited my mom in Florida the second week of December. We had a good time together, and even managed to hijack the Palm Beach area family for a dim sum brunch over the weekend. Why I have no pix from the week, I don’t know. I guess I tend to live the moment and not document unless I’m a spectator. But I think the visit was appreciated, productive, and satisfying. Next time I promise to be a better chronicler.

As spectator, I cheered on The Resident Male as he prepared an epic feast for Christmas Eve. His menu is here. When Henri, our Guest of Honor emerged from the oven, he had celebrity status. Everyone documented him.

We also went to see a performance of The Boston Pops. It was a delight.

And as usual, we maxed out on holiday festivity, aside from food and drink. We lit candles (hard to see the fully illuminated menorah due to frost on the window). We did the tree. We had the fun of opening presents from each other. This year abetted by Fernando’s mom Carm, who is happy to be away from Lackawanna and the worst of the weather there.

EYE WITNESS TO PROGRESS

So. How is that eyeball cushion coming along? Faster than I expected.

Behold 90 of the completed 102 squares – that’s nine each of the 10 color combos. In total I will need 118, so I’m only about a week out from having them all. The designated recipient is here for a holiday visit, and with luck we will find time to do a placement for the front and back. That’s four rows of 11 squares across. I’ll take pix (just in case) and pin up the four courses, noting the order of the four. The back of the cushion will duplicate the front, and I will use up the rest to make the side edges, finishing out in a large rectangular block.

My plan is to slip stitch them together, assembling the strips of 11 as required, then slip stitching the long strips together for the two primary front and back sides of the bolster. Once I have the front and back, I will slip stitch together two more rows of 11, plus two of 4. However, instead of using slip stitch again to unite the front and back with the sides, I plan to make “piped” seams using I-Cord, knitting them together instead of crocheting. I’ve done this several times before, and the result is worth the effort. I’ll probably do that on something like US #2 or #3 DPNs (between 2.75 and 3.25 mm), I have some between sizes sets in that range, so I can experiment until I find the best fit.

I plan on using a zipper around three sides of one of the short ends, so the crocheted cover can be removed for washing. In any case, once I have the crocheted layer done and have an exact final measurement, I will build the inner bolster cushion (thick semi-rigid foam wrapped in quilt batting), encase it in a permanent inner cover (an old worn out bedsheet, repurposed), and sew a zippered “fashion lining” (black duck or cotton canvas). I need that lining because crochet isn’t uniformly dense, and there are little holes in the corners. I’d prefer they be backed by black, and whatever that black is – it should also be able to be removed for washing. So even when the crochet and knitting on this is done, the project itself will still be an ongoing effort.

Wish me luck. It’s been a while since I did a major cushion project, but this is much simpler than the knife edge, piped trim bench seat I did before. I’m sure this construction is not beyond me, but luck is always welcome. 🙂

In other news, like so many others we of Casa Magnifica had our own Thanksgiving celebration. Pies, turkey, sides, and the like. Just two pies this year due to it being a small crowd (pumpkin and chocolate pecan). And I share pix of The Resident Male tending to our turkey, which due to his care, skill, and watchfulness, was superb. Younger Spawn contributed to Pie Perfection again this year, crafting a pecan vortex of deliciousness, and an on-point pumpkin presentation, and along the way making a few key improvements to the basic recipes. I will be making additional notes on those soon to preserve those flashes of inspiration.

Oh, one last minor thing. If you have been following me via Twitter, apologies. I’m afraid that’s over. I no longer have a presence on that platform.

LOOKING EAST AGAIN

Back when we were doing the expat stint in Pune, India, I wrote about Kasuthi (aka Kasuti, Kashida), a blackwork cousin that deserves to be better known by Western double running stich aficionados. I recently stumbled across another sample of related stitching, this time from a bit further north.

The Hazara people, mostly in Afghanistan, but also present in Pakistan practice an interesting and related form of linear geometric stitchery. It’s hard to date beyond “traditional,” and given current geopolitics, deeper investigations are unlikely. But here is the limited info I’ve found, plus some examples, and some sources of additional information.

The Hazara are known for several forms of stitching, mostly but not exclusively counted styles using satin stitch, straight stitch, double running stitch and cross stitch, and is better known for phulkaris (large shawls often worked in geometric, counted straight stitches). These double running stitch pieces in particular are probably made by women of the Wardak Hazaras, who live mostly southwest of Kabul. This style is usually worked in cotton or silk on linen or cotton grounds. These double running stitch pieces are often finished out as small mats, bags, shawls, prayer cloths, and other covers.

First is the artifact that piqued my interest.

This is piece in the collection of the George Washington University Museum, Accession T-1240. They note it’s provenance as being Hazara from Afghanistan, probably sometime between 1880-1920. That mushy date range is the earliest and although it’s only semi-hard, is the only date I’ve seen for this style. Note the fields of diapered patterns stitched on the count on a not-so-evenweave ground. The designs skew east-west compared to north-south due to there being more ground fabric threads per unit measurement in one direction than the other. But skew or not I love the repetition and color usage. So I went looking for more.

This artifact is probably the best represented on line for the style, and shows up in most on-line photo collections of Afghan embroidery, although not always with attribution. It is nicknamed “The Snowflake Shawl” and was collected by Jania Mishra, the author of the art blog/sales gallery Woven Souls. She places it as Hazara, but does not opine a date. Still it’s clearly antique/vintage. Her write-up includes lots of close-up photos, and notes the relationship of this style of stitching to mathematical theory. Pop by her blog to truly admire the diverse detail of this piece.

More examples. On the left is a bandanna size prayer cloth that was sold by a textile/rug auction dealer, and on the right is what’s described as a Hazara napkin in the Galerie Ariana ethnic textiles sales site. (No affiliation with/endorsement of these sellers – I find dealers’ on-line photos and attributions an occasionally useful research supplement, although not all dealers’ listing data are of the same quality.)

What can we conclude about dissemination and influences?

Very little.

Double running is one of the simplest, oldest and most ubiquitous of stitches. The scholars of Kasuthi posit a vague “Persian origin” before adoption, mention of in literature, and refinement of the style in the Deccan area Chalukya dynasty courts of the mid 500s to mid 700s, and that dynasty’s later resurgences through the end of the 1100s, culminating in the disciplined style and vocabulary of traditional motifs that are known today through surviving examples dating to the 19th century. Overland trade routes have connected Northern India and Afghanistan and beyond going back to antiquity. The the flow of both peaceful and aggressive contact is also well known, as is historical trade that connected the northeastern African coast with India. Egypt’s Fustat region is another area where visually similar double running stitch artifacts from the Mamluk era (1200s-1500s) are found.

Is this another survival of some sort of time-lost tradition that also gave rise to Kasuthi, the Mamluk works, and by extension over time and geography (and by direct quotation noted by others as well as myself), the stepwise and geometric designs found in early European modelbooks at the dawn of the popular print era (early 1500s), and on to early European blackwork and strapwork? It’s tempting to speculate so, but we have absolutely no proof.

These Afghani pieces could also have been a product of later cultural influences, as waves of association washed back and forth along time’s shores. But the clear correspondences, whether they can be affixed to defined family tree, or are just casual correlations due to the limits of geometry and the simple stitching style itself, are to me are a source of endless fascination.

Here are a couple of sites with additional information on Hazara embroidery in general:

Source material for the Mamluk styles mentioned

And there are more traditional regional counted styles to explore in this area of cultural confluence. I promise to keep digging.

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. 🙂

MINOR ADVENTURE

Off tomorrow to assist Younger Offspring’s migration to a new apartment. After graduation comes employment – in this case, done remote from home. And the current place (above a bar on a main street) was not quite as conducive to quiet productivity as might be desired.

The spawn is past the years when Mom-rescue is needed. I’ll not be schlepping furniture, but trusty company and someone with a van plus tons of laundry baskets in which to transport house plants will be appreciated. As a result I’ll be mostly off line until late in the holiday weekend.

Oh. And while Mom-rescue isn’t on the performance list, Mom-pride is. I gotta show off. The artwork here is Younger Offspring’s – a few quick pieces dashed off to frame the perfect moving mindset.

EXPLORING A BLACKWORK SHORTCUT

Back from my first in-person SCA event in a long time. I went to “Aisles of March” – what can be best described as a historical-recreation-item “craft fair” for those unfamiliar with the organization. It was a group-specific gathering at which dozens of merchants displayed wares, selling everything from whole garments of historical design and cut; to accessories, jewelry, jewelry findings/stones; the components to make clothing (including hand-dyed yarns and yardage); armor; wooden and metal table implements and specialty crafting tools (embroidery frames, weaving looms and the like); camping implements (open hearth cooking tripods and accessories); research and how-to books; and even spices and fragrances. There was also a certain amount of ceremony including SCA royal presence, and awards given out for mastery of specific arts, or for service to the organization and its constituent groups.

But I wasn’t there to attend court, or to shop. I was there to help The Apprentice and household sell their products – brilliantly hued hand-dyed silk and wool threads and yardage prepared with researched, historical recipes; bead jewelry reproductions of various eras (Viking age, late Roman Empire, Venetian), and sturdy linen by the yard. Some of this is also available on Etsy. Obvious affiliation disclosure – The apprentice is the proprietor of that Etsy shop.

While I was helping out I also had an opportunity to sell a few copies of The Second Carolingian Modelbook in person. And that gave me a chance to chat with folk interested in counted embroidery, and blackwork in specific. One thing several people mentioned was the difficulty of drafting out the freehand patterns for inhabited blackwork – the Elizabethan style characterized by heavy outlines filled in with counted or freehand stitched fills, usually in black but occasionally embellished with metal threads.

I understand that challenge. My ancient underskirt was an exercise in freehand pencil drawing, modeling flowers and foliage after group of historical artifacts including a cushion cover repurposed from a dress in the collection of the Art Institute of Chicago, Accession 1955.1221; and a panel from an embroidered sleeve held by the National Museum of Scotland, Accession A.1929.152 (other fragments of the same work exist in the Metropolitan Museum of Art and other institutions). Not everyone has the patience or confidence to do that kind of freehand drawing.

So, I set to thinking about what pre-drawn resources might be available.

Spoonflower and other print-to-order textile/wallpaper houses offer designers the chance to get their patterns printed on a variety of media, and sold by the yard. I had ordered wallpaper from them a while back.

There are thousands of prints in Spoonflower’s active catalog – among them several adapted from Elizabethan embroidery. Note that these are NOT my offerings, I have nothing posted there. I just went browsing among their current listings and picked two that were likely candidates – the ones with the most historically representative designs at offered at the largest scale. Then I went to the fabric choice area and picked two different fabrics, both possible choices for counted or surface work, and ordered two eight-inch swatches. This is what I received:

The design on the left is shown in several reference books, and is one I included a thumbnail of in my very first hand-drawn booklet on blackwork, issued in 1978. It’s vaguely similar to one in Trevelyon’s Miscelleny, but as soon as I find my now-packed-away booklet, I’ll insert the specific source. The one on the right is a simplified and very recognizable version of a standard Elizabethan scrolling floral design, of the type rendered in blackwork or polychrome stitching, often with metal thread embellishments.

I requested my sample of the one on the left (the darker one) be printed on what Spoonflower sells under the name Cypress Cotton Canvas. The one on the right was printed on their Belgian Linen. Here are zooms, with a penny for ease of thread count calculation:

Note that the cotton canvas (left) isn’t really countable, but it has a dense weave structure that might be amenable to surface work. However I am not a textile history expert, and I don’t know if fabric of that structure, even if it were not cotton would be appropriate to the period of the design. The linen however is plain tabby weave. By counting threads occluded by the penny I get 17 horizontal threads x 21 vertical threads. Factoring in the penny’s standard width of 0.75 inch, we can compute a thread count of approximately 21 x 26 threads, but I can’t tell which is warp and which is weft due to the lack of selvedges. Skew but easily counted and stitched.

BUT

My first reaction to both of these samples is that the motifs on them are quite small in scale for easy stitching. Even on the uncountable canvas, I would have preferred that design be imaged about a quarter to third again bigger to make it easier to work. This is also very true for the scrolling flower design printed on linen. It might do for non-counted polychrome treatment with a very simple stitch used for the stem; or for speckled freehand blackwork, again simple outlines and a scattered stitch, shaded infilling. But for fancy counted, geometric, diapered fills, there just isn’t enough real estate inside most of the flower and leaf motif segments to make such stitching worthwhile.

The next step of course is hands-on. It won’t be any time soon (I have a massive to-do queue), but I do intend to secure the edges, launder, iron and give both a try anyway, to see how the fabrics and printing perform. If the stitching goes well I might finish them out into small sweet bags. Or not. This is just an idle experiment.

Again, I am not endorsing or promoting the source, the products, or the designers who offer their patterns at the source. I paid full price for my swatches. But I am trying to help out those who are looking for some sort of assistance in starting their own blackwork projects. While these items are not exactly optimal, they or similar pieces might be learning tools that could jumpstart creativity, and help someone reach towards a previously unattainable goal of making something visually period-appropriate. And that in turn might help them advance towards less “factory-modern” ways of getting there.

Stay tuned. Eventually I will cycle back to this experiment, do the wash test, and play with these some more.

LOOKING BACK

Two bits of nostalgia and a rant today, but no fine needlework, just some knitting. Apologies for the disappointment.

First a bit of fun nostalgia, and a reminder that family heirlooms needn’t be pricey bits of bling. As I was putting my new backgammon board away I found my chess set. It’s an unusual one, but not by any stretch of the imagination, precious. Except to me.

My grandfather Mack gave me the set around my 9th or 10th birthday. He had a jobbing print company back when you needed presses, engravers, and actual lead-set type. The company printed magazines including New York’s Social Spectator; pamphlets, brochures and catalogs; small private run books, luxe bespoken stationary, and even precision hand-engraved items like stock certificates. This chess set was part of a late 1950s/early 1960s catalog of some sort, but I have no record of what company it might have been made for. The board/box in which it came was damaged during the photo shoot, so he was able to keep it.

The set itself is housed in a very ordinary storage case/playing board. The damage is to one of the two velvet lined nests into which the pieces fit, but it’s not fatal. The figurines look to be inspired by fancy hand-carved antique ivory sets, but I believe they are some sort of plastic, each with a little “Made in Japan” sticker underneath. Still they are nicely designed with a netsuke-derived look. Especially the pawns, which come in two flavors – four bearing conch shells and four bearing scrolls.

Now my grandfather didn’t play chess – not to my knowledge at least, but I did. My dad had taught me the rudiments a few years earlier, and I read up on some beginner strategy. I never got good although I have retained a peripheral interest, even hanging out with the chess team in high school (they teased me by saying I was seventh board of a five man team). Younger Offspring is a far better player than I ever was, proving it by beating me soundly three times in a row many years ago, in spite of playing as a 14-year old hospital in-patient with a ruptured appendix, high fever, and under sedation.

I have designated this set as “an heirloom of our house” and in some ways, it’s fitting it’s only plastic.

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Now on to the rant, plus some wistful but non-visual nostalgia.

I just finished yet another pair of heavy slouch socks – mindless knitting to occupy the fingers while The Resident Male and I campaign through the first computer game we’ve played in more than two decades. I can watch for Imminent Peril, monitor vital statistics, and consult on strategy and puzzle solving, but not while doing more complex attention-sink type handwork. So socks it is.

I admit I was seduced by a yarn that even under best conditions would be marginal. It’s a sport weight polyester/acrylic blend from Lion Brand, “Moroccan Nights.” I was weak; seduced by the colors. I knew it was a long-repeat variegated, and bought two balls of the same color number and dye lot. They looked identical with the same repeat section on the outside of each ball. But….

This yarn is the absolute worst knitting or crochet product I have used in a very long time. So bad I would swear that this yarn was spun from the devil’s own nose hairs.

Yes, these two socks came from two balls of the stuff with the same color number and dye lot number (Magic Carpet, color 514-307, dye lot 16561). I don’t mind a long variation, but the color jumps on these socks are largely NOT due to continuous change in the yarn itself. Instead they are due to multiple knots in each ball that united color discontinuous sections. Every major color transition you see here means that there are two more ends to darn in because the knots were too slippery to trust. One sock has three knot-induced extra end pairs to deal with, the other has four.

In addition to the poor quality control in skeining, the yarn itself is impossibly unruly. It has a severe overtwist which makes it rat-tail around itself. The structure is two very flossy, barely spun strands of acrylic plus one thin thread of mylar or other shiny polyester metallic, wound together to make a rag-style yarn. The flossy strands split and fray, fusing together in the overtwisted rat-tails, and make stitch formation a nightmare. Constant stopping to let the work spin out and ease the overtwist is required. Decreases and increases are wrestling matches because the needles catch on every microfilament.

Yes, I concede that using this yarn for socks was over-ambitious. Perhaps big needles and plain garter stitch or crochet would have been a better choice. But usage aside, the basic twisty, frizzy, fraying, fusing nature of Lion Brand Moroccan Nights makes it an unpleasant experience at any gauge.

Now for the wistful nostalgia.

For many years I ran the on line Yarn Review Collection at wiseNeedle, my former website. It started as a plain text document passed around the old pre-Internet KnitList mailing list, in the early days when email systems were just beginning to branch out and connect with each other. Eventually, with the copious help of The Resident Male, it transformed into a searchable on-line database.

The whole thing was volunteer run. I was the shepherd, confirming yarn detail (gauge, yardage, ball weight, proper spelling/manufacture), and combed retail catalogs entering data for new base entries as yarns were released for sale. Anyone who wanted to could contribute a review, and many did. We appreciated achieved gauge, some indication of what the yarn was used for, and any comments – good or bad – about the experience of using it. Stuff like “tons of knots in each ball”, “yardage seems very short,” “sheds dye on the hands and needles while working,” “falls to pieces in the wash,” were common comments. So were things like “fantastic for the tight detail on a traditional gansey,” and “wonderful stuff, soft, and a at great price.” I even computed a value score, calculating the cost per yard for each review that reported the retail price, so folk could compare relative value.

The Yarn Review Collection ran for 13 years. The wiseNeedle website never accepted direct advertising payments although I did have some general audience ads (tightly controlled) to defray expenses of running the thing. But I took no in kind gifts or monetary payments from anyone in the industry, and refused all planted information – supposed “reviews” furnished by retailers, wholesalers and makers. For the most part wiseNeedle broke even or ran a bit behind, and I floated it from my own pocket. UNTIL.

Ravelry.

When the Ravelry site broke big time, traffic at all independent knitting websites plummeted. People stopped contributing reviews to wiseNeedle, stopped asking/answering questions on its advice boards, and even traffic to its free patterns plummeted. Eventually I was the only person contributing reviews, and my own views represented 80% of my weekly traffic. The String-or-Nothing blog subsection was the only thing that had even minor residual visits. So I threw in the towel, killed wiseNeedle and ported String to a new stand-alone venue.

Why dredge all this up now?

I really wanted to post a review of Moroccan Nights. I added a comment to the Ravelry yarn page for it, but in doing so noted that actual comments about the yarn are not exactly up front and center. You can see data on it and pix of it, see how many people have stashed it, see how many projects people have worked from it, and see a combined satisfaction score of the projects (not the yarn itself); but the comments section is a second tier behind the data cover. What’s presented is superficially and inadvertently deceptive. A 3.9 star out of 5 review for this stuff? Not. Will anyone page through and see the actual feedback? Probably very few.

Moral of the story: If you ever want to use Ravelry’s yarn pages to find out more than simple data about a product, do hunt around for that comments link. Leave comments for yarns you have used if you feel that feedback would help others. And don’t rely on that star rating to indicate actual usability, quality or value of the yarn being discussed. It has nothing to do with the yarn, it’s all about those finished projects.

Am I going to reinitiate wiseNeedle and the yarn review collection? No. It’s too time, money, and materials intensive. There’s no way anyone can catch up with Ravelry, which is now a social and industry juggernaut in its own right. The halcyon days of the non-monetized Internet are over, and I refuse to accept subsidies. By doing so I compromise my principles by becoming a paid influencer.

Nostalgic and a bit exercised? Yes. Today I am. Maybe I need to go and knit something to calm down.

PRESENT TENSE, BUT RELAXED

I have been a very lucky recipient this year, with several fun things to share here.

First was a holiday present from The Resident Male. Noting our stellar lack of success growing a kitchen garden outdoors; our constant consumption rate for of parseley, thyme, dill, cilantro, and other herbs; and the fact that our house has a rather dark interior, he gave me an indoor, self-illuminated hydroponic garden. Which being terminally nerdy, I promptly named “Keiko” after the Star Trek xenobotanist and long suffering wife of Chief Miles O’Brien.

As you can see, Keiko is nearly foolproof. This is a photo of growth at three weeks. Dill is the tall boi. Basil is in the right hand rear grow pod, with Thai basil in front of it. I will report back when we begin to harvest. But so far, so good…

Far less technological but of equal and long lasting delight was a surprise present from Sytske, my Long Distance Needlework Pal (of Antique Pattern Library fame), who lives in The Netherlands. The mail carrier trotted up to my door with the box and rang the bell because it was an International Delivery and he didn’t want to just leave it on the steps. He’s a sweetie who goes above and beyond.

Sytske and I had an email pen pal chat a while ago about an inlaid backgammon board I had bought in Jerusalem while I was in Israel on a summer-long archaeology program between high school and college. She said she had a collection of various items of similar style. We also discussed old needlework tools, and a zillion other things. I was totally surprised at the goodie box I received. And overwhelmingly grateful as well.

First, there was a splendid backgammon board. The one I bought in the summer of 1974 is the smaller of the two. It was the least expensive in the shop, and even so being on a student budget, I bargained for it for the better part of week.

The larger, more ornate and resplendent one is from Sytske. Both are obviously of the same regional and iconic style, very common and extremely popular throughout the whole Middle East region.

The workmanship on Sytske’s board is far more elaborate, with finer inlaid decorations on every surface. Even top edges inside the box and the pieces are embellished. Mine is heavier and thicker, with fewer colors and less detail, and my pieces are plain olive wood rounds.

Now for holiday gatherings, should the yen to play strike us, we can run two games at once. And I think I’ll take some good furniture oil to mine. It’s looking a bit dry and upstaged by the new magnificence.

Wrapped inside the game was a mystery bundle. I unwrapped it carefully and found an entire collection of antique needlework tools!

First there were several bone crochet hooks, three long enough for Tunisian crochet. The tiny hook at the end, even though it’s extremely fine (think crocheting hand-sewing thread fine), I do believe is for crochet and not tambour embroidery because its point is quit rounded.

In addition to hooks, I now have a collection of small needlework assist tools. From the top, a laying tool that by its graduated thickness might also do double duty for enlarging lacing holes or forming thread circles to over-crochet; another smaller laying tool; one with a hole in the end that might have had a secondary use as a bodkin to assist in passing a drawstring cord through its casing; and two laying tools/sewing awls with metal points. Below the measuring tape are two other items – a flat “needle” that could also be used as a bodkin for a round or flat tape, but that is going to become my naalbinding needle; and a sweet little bone needle case, probably from the late 1920s/1930s. It’s the only item I can date, and I do so by its Art Deco shape and proportions. It still has a couple of well worn long plain sewing needles in it.

I’m not done yet. There is more! This is a collection of handles that were probably for tambour embroidery needles (aka aari) or for thread crochet hooks. These are truly impressive because (at least here in the US) they are rather uncommon. A couple of the metal ones may be silver, but they are too small for hallmarks or stamps.

The ones above the measuring tape all have little screw-on ends, hiding a storage compartment where the hooks or needles would have been kept. The top one – the white agate also has a screw-on stone finial protecting the attachment’s “business end”. The ones below the measuring tape do not have a storage compartment. The tiny clamp keys on all of them except the red agate one are still functional and turn easily. I need to fetch out my modern tambour hook set and see if I can use the points in any of these.

One other observation – a couple of these antique implements may in fact be ivory and not bone. There is a marked difference in weight and texture in some of them. For example, the dotted tambour holder, the most ornate of the crochet hooks, the largest laying tool and the laying tool with the hole in the end are all much heavier and finer textured by comparison than other items of similar size. If they are ivory, they would be subject to restrictions in sale without firm documentation proving their age. Which is for me at least a moot consideration, since I do not plan on parting with any of these.

Color me gobsmacked. And grateful. Thank you again Sytske! I am totally thrilled to take on duties as curator of this awesome collection!

FAMILY FROLICS

It’s been a busy couple of months, what with the release of The Second Carolingian Modelbook, the debut and continuance of my Epic Fandom Stitch-Along, plus various home improvement projects, and family celebrations.

We had a great time in Buffalo, at the cooperatively planned and executed three day extravaganza for my mother-in-law’s 90th birthday. The whole family pitched in, with backyard gatherings under a big tent that included two cookouts and a football afternoon, with the game projected for all gathered to see, plus a gala luncheon at a riverside indoor/outdoor venue, at which a string quartet from the Buffalo Philharmonic played. My in-laws’ family is far flung and rarely has a chance to gather, so it was a grand reunion.

Here is the birthday celebrity with her kids, who are collectively taller, greyer, but no less intent on having fun than they were when they were small and underfoot. Left to right – Dan, Laura, Fernando, Carm, Paul, Susan, and Carolyn.

As an example of the attention to detail in planning and execution is this cookie, made by my sister-in-law Vicky’s daughter Jacqueline. These (in several shapes) were part of each of the luncheon place settings, themed to celebrate Carm’s passions and achievements. Mad skills there.

And now that the birthday present has been given, I can finally post about my Secret Knitting Project of the past two months. I made a dramatic scarf for Carm, in black mohair with sequins, knit from my Spring Lightning pattern, available in the scarves section of my knitting patterns page.

More updates in the days to come, including the great basement overhaul, the landscaping ventures, and a bit of “helping-hands” crochet – not to mention the fourth installment of the stitch-along (Tuesday next – I promise).

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