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.
On Saturday past, for something to do, we wandered out to visit several antique and decorative item shops nearby. We’ve been looking for smaller items to bring back home:
We’ve been looking for a second chair for our living room for a very long time.
We found this in Just Antiques, on North Main Road here in Pune. They specialize in pieces made from repurposed wood. This piece is aged teak. The back is a recycled piece of interior paneling or carved window screening. The origin of the legs and seat platform are less discernable.
When we get home we’ll lose the egregious purple foam cushion. I’m now on the lookout for a length of embroidery, a small weaving or lightweight rug that can be used to cover a sprung cushion. I think that a very thick knife-edge piece with a center button would look far better than the slab of purple cheese that’s there right now. Perhaps next week’s trip to Kerala and the beach will turn up something appropriate.
We also got a small shelf/coat rack at Ra in Kalyani Nagar. That is destined to go behind our front door, also in the living room. It’s a simple wood shelf, with antique cast iron side brackets sporting pierced ornamentation, and a wrought crossbar below the shelf to which is attached four large wrought coat hooks. We have no front or reception closet, and it will be nice to have a place to hang guests’ coats when they visit. I do not show pix today because it is securely wrapped for shipment, and I don’t want to undo its bubble-wrap cocoon.
Mary Corbet over at Needle n’ Thread has just posted an interesting piece contrasting tambour needle produced chain stitch with the same stitch produced by a traditional threaded needle. She notes the speed, density and coverage factor of tambour stitching. I present a truly huge sample to corroborate her observations.
I have an entire room-size floor carpet done in tambour work.
For those of you who don’t know what tambour is, it’s a method of producing an even embroidery stitch with a chained appearance, by plunging a hook through a base fabric, catching a loop of decorative thread, then repeating the process to create a line. The hook used (called arhi, here) looks a bit like a fine crochet hook, but the end of the hook is a bit more pointed, to make piercing the ground fabric easier. Mary offers up some excellent discussions of the technique, so I’ll skip doing so.
In any case, Mary’s piece made me think about the rug we recently purchased:
This piece is roughly 6’ x 9’ (1.8 x 2.7 meters). Everything you see here is stitching. The white cotton ground is totally covered by vibrant, dense-pack chain stitch in jewel colored cotton:
By getting close up with my gauge square, I can see that the stitch count varies between 10 and 12 stitches per inch, with the longer stitches being in the plain areas like the simple straight pink and brown runs at the bottom of the detail, above. For width, about three rows of stitching equals 1/3 of an inch, with the longer stitch areas being a bit narrower in addition to leggier. Perhaps the less skilled stitchers were assigned the boring border areas, and the more skilled artisans did the intricate motifs. In any case, because of the variability of stitch length and some small mistakes here and there, I am pretty confident that this rug was done by hand and not with a sewing machine.
If I flex the heavy canvas ground cloth, I can see some pencil lines behind the stitching that mark off major design areas, but not every area or motif is indicated. Finally, the entire piece is backed with another layer of cotton sheeting, slightly thinner than the natural color ground cloth.
Our rug came from the Kashmiri area further north, the source of so many of the handcrafts available here in Pune. It’s a bit unusual because this type of stitching is more commonly done in wool. Namdas for example, are tambour stitched rugs worked in wool (or sometimes today, wool/acrylic blend or even cotton) on a felted wool ground cloth. I’ve seen them both here, and occasionally in import stores in the US.
Back to our carpet – how long did it take to make? Tambour is speedy, but 6’ x 9’ is a huge amount of handwork. The crafts merchant who sold it to us said that these pieces were the product of family manufacture. It typically takes several people (I’m thinking four to six, more can’t easily fit around the cloth to work) about two weeks to make one this size. I base this on the fact that he says one family can produce between two and four big pieces per month. Ours was one of the largest. Most of the other samples of cotton tambour were about half this size. To my stitcher’s eye, ours was also the most accomplished of the four available cotton rugs. It was the most evenly and densely stitched, with the best color balance and patterning.
The stitched surface is holding up nicely to moderate traffic, although we are careful with it. We do not wear shoes in the house, and I do not subject this piece to the vacuum. Instead I light surface sweep with a soft plastic broom, and supplement that with occasional shake-outs. Thankfully, nothing has spilled on it. Yet.
We bought this piece because we fell in love with the brilliant color, intricate patterning; and because I appreciated the skill that it took to produce, and the magnitude of labor it represents. It’s time and care, rendered in cotton, and will be one of my favorite keepsakes, long after we return home.
We’ve all heard the expression “You’ll be doing that until the cows come home.”
But when exactly is that?
It turns out that on this street there’s a small herd of Indian Urban Cows. They commute each day to local grazing, much like the businessmen in the surrounding high rise buildings go back and forth to work. Our street’s five cows amble out and back, shepherded by a guy on a bicycle (or occasionally on foot).
Having tracked the data, I can now say exactly what time they come home.
Roughly at around 4:30pm.
Here’s the data for October:
Amusingly, you can see that the trendline correlates with the slowly shortening days, as the sun rises later and sets earlier as the month progresses.
So if someone says that a task won’t be finished “Until the cows come home,” you can pipe up and say, “I’ll be back at 4:30 to pick it up.”
Another mystery of the ages, put to bed by scientific observation.
I can’t get over how cool this is:
Credit: This is a NASA photo, of the stuffed dinosaur Karen Nyberg sewed on the International Space Station. This little T-Rex is floating weightless now, but by mid-November when the crew returns, will be a present for Nyberg’s 3-year old son. There’s more on this here.
I said on Facebook that this was cooler than Alan Shepherd’s golf shot on the moon. That was certainly neat, but it was a one-off – almost performance art. This is tangible, and more meaningful on so many levels.
First, this little toy, made by a parent far away from children presents an immediate and personal connection to far-flung families working through voluntary or enforced separation.
As a product of a traditional female craft floating in a world of shiny engineering, it makes a statement to millions of women and girls, who are often told that they have to choose between hard science or the softer pursuits. It’s not an either/or world out there. You CAN be an astronaut and sew for fun.
It’s entertainment – doing the familiar in an unfamiliar environment for stress abatement. That’s something I can certainly identify with, having taken a mini-stash of stitching and knitting supplies with me here to India.
It’s creativity and the boundless urge to make something out of what little is at hand. The ingenuity of making a toy from the unlikeliest of scrounged discards is admirable.
It’s whimsical, and adorable (and very nicely stitched). It speaks of a charming sense of humor, and of a very happy little boy. And for all I know, it may be a sly nod to the Dr. Who episode “Dinosaurs on a Spaceship”.
It’s a tangible that will come home with Flight Engineer Nyberg, and (as long as it lasts) be a reminder of where she was able to go. It’s an heirloom of her house now, a priceless and totally unique souvenir of her achievements.
Finally Mr. Saurus is a statement that space is a new normal – a place where people will increasingly commute to work, and come home again. “I’m from Iowa, I only work in space” – brought to life off the movie screen.
So thank you Ms. Nyberg! You’ve made my day!