OK. Here’s the post folks have asked for. Warning. It’s long.
I don’t claim this to be totally inclusive (I’m always stumbling across new-to-me things as I browse museum on-line photo collections), but it’s a start. Feel free to comment with additional examples.
There’s been lively discussion on what stitches and techniques were used for the backgrounds of voided works. I’m going to try to present as many examples as I can.
To start – voided pieces are a family of works that feature a more or less uniform background treatment that leaves the main design of the piece plain (or minimally worked. It results in a visual “reverse silhouette” look. There are many manifestations of this aesthetic over time. One widely known subset is Assisi work – a simplified but charming 19th century revival inspired by earlier Renaissance era embroideries. The revival used cross stitch (aka “plain old cross stitch” or POCS) ornamented by back or double running stitches. Earlier styles were more varied.
One of the most common treatments was a tightly pulled four-sided stitch, worked to completely cover the threads of the woven ground. None of the ground threads were cut – they were just bundled together, making an extremely durable net-like texture. How do I know it’s durable? I’ve stitched some, made a mistake, and found it absolutely impossible to rip back or deconstruct (perhaps that’s why so many fragments of it exist, even after the towels, pillowcases and other linen they adorned have frayed to death).
The border above is in the Art Institute of Chicago (accession 1896.112, and is attributed to Italy, in the early 1600s. I believe the outlines were established first, in either double running or back stitch, and then the background was filled in, working right up to and in some cases, encroaching on those outlines. Close examination of the photo where the outlines are broken shows no cut ground threads, just distortion. The “wing shapes” in the connecting meandering branches are very amusing to me. I know from experience that working in closed areas is challenging. it looks like the stitcher saved some time and effort by drawing a diagonal between the bud and the side sprig on the branch, and just not filling in between them.
Here’s another example, Italian, but undated, resident in the Harvard Art Museum collection (accession 1916.388). Also outlined with the meshy stitch worked up to the outlines. Note that companion edging though. I can’t tell for sure, but the branches that little leaves grow on at least may be cross stitches. Not sure about the leaves themselves. On this one it’s very clear that the ground cloth threads are bundled, not cut.
Here is a variant – a similar tightly stitched mesh, over a somewhat coarser linen ground, BUT in this case the stitcher did NOT establish an outline and then fill in the background. The piece is most definitely done on the count (not on a freehand outline), but the only stitching that established the motifs is the background mesh. This bit is also from the Cooper Hewitt (accession 1946-42-9a), dated 17th century, but has no posted place of origin. One other thing to note is a bit of directionality in the mesh. Mesh can be worked either on the diagonal or back and forth across succeeding rows. In this case the stitcher did the latter. But it’s NOT long armed cross stitch. It’s still the tightly overworked mesh.
This variant of meshy was done by someone who didn’t encroach on the established outlines. Instead this stitcher left a “halo” of unworked ground around the foreground motifs. There is no companion line on the outer edge of the halo area – the mesh stitch simply starts. I’ve mentioned this piece before in my series on long-lost siblings, and it’s in the Harvard Art Museum (accession 1916.377), but bears no date or location notes.
Here’s a piece that the holding institution claims was done by withdrawing threads, but the detail photo at left (a section where the red stitching has been lost) clearly shows the distortion of groups of 3×3 threads, with no snips or darns. I maintain that this is the pulled meshy stitch, too. Another Cooper-Hewitt sample (accession 1971-50-90), Italian from the 1500s. Love that needle lace edging detail, too!
Cut and Withdrawn/Overstitched Mesh
What about withdrawn thread work, where threads are snipped or turned back and the edges secured, with the remaining scaffolding overstitched to make a meshy background? I’m pretty sure it exists, but I need to find a well documented and clearly photographed sample that explicitly shows the snipped rather than distorted threads of the ground fabric’s weave. Have a reference? Feel free to share it in the comments. If a good one shows up I’ll edit this and include a cut thread heading and photo here.
Long Armed Cross Stitch (LACS)
Another popular ground treatment was long-armed cross stitch. This produces a distinctive almost braided texture when worked back and forth across the piece. The piece below is in the Cooper-Hewitt (accession 1971-50-100 ), with a provenance of Spain, of the 16th-17th century. Again the main design is outlined with back or double running stitch, and the background is filled in later. Note that the stitcher kludged this a bit where the rows of LACS meet up with angles, and that POCS is used for edge ornamentation.
But again, working with an linear outline is not mandatory. Here’s a jaunty falconer on his mount. He is also worked in LACS, but without the double running or back stitch outline, in spite of the complexity of the design. And yes, there ARE some plain old cross stitch bits in there. Much of the surface detail in the otherwise unworked foreground areas are done in POCS. I’d even entertain an argument that outlining was also done in POCS, but is mostly disguised by encroachment of the background LACS. However, the bulk of the background is clearly LACS. You can find this piece in the Cooper-Hewitt (accession 1904-17-4), dated to the 17th century, no provenance. I do wonder about the dating though. The design seems a bit “modern-revival” to me, unless there was a nostalgia movement in the 1600s that presented folk in “antique dress.” Also that cross stitch for outlining thing is very, very rare. (I’ll wait for the experts on dating to chime in on this one.)
More long-armed cross stitch – but more tightly pulled. It’s not true meshy – the plaited like texture and 1×2 crossings are still evident. This time with outlines. In green. This Italian piece is from The Art Institute of Chicago (accession 1937.779), and is dated from 1500s/1600s or so.
Another one just for fun. Clearly LACS-like, and you can make out that 1×2 cross on the very uniform top legs. From the uniformity of those legs I think that this piece was not worked in stitch-by-stitch mode (the standard way of working LACS, but as an entire row, with the stitcher first laying down the “short legs” and then covering them by a second pass working just the “long legs” in the opposite direction. This supposition is borne out by the way the successive rows cross. Note that there has been absolutely no effort to keep the successive rows of LACS either alternating left to right as is done when it’s worked in the usual manner, or all aligning in the same direction. Instead the rows “bounce” when they encounter an obstruction, and do so in a way that’s congruent with the in-two-passes approach. Obviously this one has outlining done in a different color, and the ground done in a very atypical yellow. Sprightly, even with the massive loss of the now blue/green thread. It’s from the Cooper-Hewitt collection (accession 1971-50-77), and dated to the 1500s (no provenance.)
There are a few pieces that use an effective but simple fill. The final appearance is that of boxes. The samples I have seen have all been double-sided, and from the pattern produced by unevenly dyed or faded threads, I suspect most of them were worked in double running on the diagonal. No proof though without picking one out, and that would be heresy. This piece is from the Philadelphia Museum (accession 1894-30-116). It’s Italian, of the late 1500s. In addition to the boxed fill the foreground is ornamented with cutwork, which makes it a double-curiosity. On some of these the outlines of the motifs are also done in double running. In others, in back stitch (or possibly very neatly done outline/stem stitch), so that the reverse presents a heavier line defining them. Whether or not those who first used these considered the heavier outlined side the public side is something we may never know.
Here’s the most well known sample of the boxed substyle – the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s apron (accession 38.19.8) – Italian, 16th-17th century. This one doesn’t use outlines to define the motifs. The edges of the box ground units themselves define the edges of the foreground motif.
Here’s another example of the squared filling style (with outlines). This piece is from Musées Royaux d’Art et d’Histoire, in Brussels (accession T.1578), and is dated to the 1500s. It combines variants of two of my favorite designs, the “lettuce” pattern on the left, and another that shows up again and again on the right. Both of these designs turn up in other voided and un-voided presentations, with meshy or LACS as the ground treatment. Or none at all. Variants of these two will be in my ever forthcoming book.
Plain Old Cross Stitch (POCS)
Yup. You had to peek to see what I would say here. Sadly, although I’ve examined hundreds of samples of voided pieces, I have found none with a ground worked in plain cross stitch until the mid/late 19th century revival of that style. That doesn’t mean there aren’t any – just that I haven’t stumbled across them yet. Got one? Feel free to send the reference to me. I’d love to find one and add it to the greater family.
But here’s a prime example of the most complex end of the revived style. These two designs have clear Renaissance era precursors (well, close at least – maybe not exact pedigrees), but are rendered using POCS, with and without linear outlines. This is from The Antique Pattern Library’s copy of Album des Broideries au Point de Croix, compiled by Therese de Dillmont, probably an edition of the 1880s,
Other Modern Treatments
I can cite no historical precedent for these treatments – I admit, I was just riffing on the squared box theme. But they do work and are interesting. These are my own: diagonals, diamonds, and steps. I like the mirroring on the diagonals in the top sample, the second one has all of the diagonals going in the same direction for the entire strip. All of these are worked on designs for which I have citations, and that have or will appear in my books.
UPDATE – Diagonal Cross Hatch
No research is ever “forever.” New things are imaged or otherwise rise to attention. Therefore there is little point ever saying “they never did it that way.” But one can always say “I haven’t seen that yet.”
Well now I have. For at least one of my modern interpretations. Note that third item under “Other Modern Treatments” above – the leafy meander with the yellow diagonal cross-hatch. Well, lo and behold; here’s a historical example.
This is a fragment in the collection of the Smithsonian Institution, Accession 1971-50-108. It’s dated 15th or 16th century and attributed as German. It’s pretty clear that these are whole stitches, worked within a double running stitch or backstitched outline – exactly as I worked mine, with whole diagonals that intersect, not “checkerboard spaced” plain old cross stitches whose crossed centers make up every other intersection.
Now I do think the museum dating is a bit off, it’s probably 16th or 17th century, but there’s no doubt about it. We have solid artifact basis for diagonal cross hatch.
And who knows what will turn up next….
It’s February. That means that the weather is still dreary. We are all looking forward to some sort of escape, so it’s time for my annual Shameless Self Promotion post.
First Beach. Glorious beach.
Sitting warm on the sand, or on a deck with a grand view, sipping a favorite beverage, and watching the tide march in and out. Yes, the shoulder seasons and summer seem far off now, but bookings for the best places are already picking up.
Our beachside condo in North Truro, Cape Cod, right on the bay side, close to the Provincetown line is now available for booking for the summer 2019 season.
Above left is the view from the deck looking back towards Wellfleet, and sunset over Provincetown is in the opposite direction (arrow on the map below is back towards Wellfleet).
We are at Beach Point, with parking for two cars, right at a bus stop for the local shuttle to Provincetown – a quick trip to restaurants, galleries, theater, and night life, with or without your car.
The condo is on the second floor, with a covered deck (the one with the red deck chairs, below). The Shoreline development has its own private beach, and offers picnic tables, lounge chairs, kayak and bike racks, and grills to all who stay.
The apartment itself is two bedroom, with a full kitchen (full size stove with oven, fridge and microwave, sink, coffee maker, toaster, blender, lobster pot). It is air conditioned, and also has a washer and dryer, and a full bath with shower and whirlpool tub.
There is TV in the living room and each bedroom, cable, and WiFi. The bedrooms each have a queen-size bed, and the living room sofa also converts to a queen size bed.
Pricing and availability are listed at the agent’s website. Prices vary by week, with significant savings in the shoulder seasons.
So, come and pull up a chair. Put your feet up, pull out your knitting or a good book, and feel the relaxation!
A good book?
Even for those who need more immediate escape, and can’t wait until warm weather, I always suggest a good book.
It’s no secret that The Resident Male writes books and short stories. Here’s his lead offering – the first of what we hope will be a science fiction/mystery series. Of course, I’m biased, but I do recommend it highly. It’s a good read, full of compelling characters, alien cultures, heroics, and intrepid investigations – with a dash of sarcasm thrown in.
Meet Blair. Meet Terendurr. While you can’t quite share that favorite beverage with them, after getting to know them I’m betting that you will wish you could.
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.