Category Archives: New Carolingian Modelbook


Early stitching modelbooks.  They so often look the same, page after page. Where did I see that design before?  Why is it oh, so familiar?

And so we launch again into a post that only a stitching geek would love.

Early European modelbooks produced by sixteenth century printers in Italy, Germany and France often include similar patterns.  Often the same patterns.  Sometimes patterns SO much alike that one would think they were printed from the same blocks.  In some cases, especially if one printer did successive editions of work, that’s entirely likely.  In other cases, where the same block appears in works from different shops – that’s not entirely clear.  Especially if the workshops of the various printers were separated by geography and/or time.  However it happened – trade in blocks, plagiarism from printed copy, whatever – it is clear that considerable cross-pollination did occur.

Here is just one example.

This is from Niccolo d’Aristotile’s (called Zoppino) Venice-published Ensamplairo di Lavoiri, 1530/1531, as redacted as Volume I of Kathryn Goodwyn’s Flowers of the Needle collection (left).  At right I show the same page from an original (unredacted) copy of the same book in the Gallica BNF20 collection, to remove doubt about any assertions I made below being artifacts of cleaning up for reprint.  Watch those two center designs:

FOTN-1-zop zoppino-2

1530/31, Italy is pretty early, right?

Well, there’s this.  Johann Schonsperger the Younger, from 1529, published in Augsberg, Germany  This is from Ein new getruckt model Buchli auf außnehen, vnnd bortten wircken..., in the collection of the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, #0S-1473-kl, as presented via Bildindex.


Not surprisingly, Johann Schonsperger’s earlier work, Ein new Modelbuch auff auaußnehen vnd bortern wircken.. from 1526 (also from Augsberg) has the exact same page.  Also from Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, #0S-1472, as presented via Bildindex.


So we’ve traced this panel back to a 1526 edition, published in Germany.   But were all of these printed from the same blocks?

I’d say that the two Schonsperger pages were certainly produced from the same blocks.  They have the same curious features and mistakes.


By contrast, here are the same sections from the Zoppino work, with the same areas highlighted:


Yup.  The little crescent is missing, and the lower arm of the fleur-de-lis type detail with the clumsy header is gone entirely – the design is truncated, leaving it on the cutting room floor.  There are other differences – mistakes made in one version of the design but not in the other, that you would only notice if you were trying to redraft or stitch from each pattern.

So in this one case,  I’d posit that a copy of a printed page from Schonsperger in Augsberg – either as part of a book, or as a broadside – made its way to Venice, where it was seized upon and re-rendered for inclusion in Zoppino’s collections.   Which is pretty much counter to the intuitive argument that I’ve seen many make – that these counted patterns all originated in Italy and then spread north.  Of course there may be another printed copy even earlier than Schonsperger…

Oh, and this design in particular?  I’ve always been fascinated by the narrow border with its strong directionality. I posited in The New Carolingian Modelbook, that based on similarities to examples of Tiraz band calligraphy done on the count, as appearing in Richard Rutt’s book A History of Hand Knitting, 1989, that this motif may have been copied (possibly without knowing what it represented) from an extant piece of stitching, rug, or other textile from an Islamic workshop.  If that’s true, it would make the design’s peregrinations even more impressive.  Somewhere in the Islamic world, to Germany, then to Italy.  And on from there…




Another question from the inbox:  “So, what’s up with those snails?”

No mystery – just a bit of silly that’s been codified into semi-tradition.

The original strip of snails was one of the first patterns I doodled up – inspired by the non-counted snails in Scholehouse for the Needle (1624)That was way long back ago, when I was still in college.  They’ve wandered in and out of my notes over the years, first appearing as a spot motif, and eventually ending up in my first and second hand drawn pattern collections (published in ‘76 and in the early ‘80s) and eventually my own New Carolingian Modelbook.  I dedicated that form of the pattern to Mistress Peridot of the Quaking Hand – a local resident of the SCA Barony of Carolingia (Eastern Massachusetts/greater Boston area), famed for her calligraphy and her unselfish sharing of the same. The artist behind so many excellent awards scrolls. Peridot’s own device features a sleepy snail.

Maybe it’s a subliminal comment on slow, steady perseverance inherent in needlework, but for whatever reason, I have used that snail on the majority of my samplers.  Not all, but most.  Here are charts for some of the ways my little creeping friends have shown up.  The original row is at the top left.  The all-over of snails circling little gardens with ominous intent is from the Trifles sampler.  The ribbon strip at the lower left is the bit I’m currently stitching in blue and red. 




This is new for me. I’ve had projects that spanned years (decades, even), but never before have I had one embroidery project that I worked on without stopping, that has taken more than a year. Even my blackwork underskirt was done in 10 months. But as of mid December, I have now spent an entire year working on my big blackwork sampler. I’m not quite done. Almost, but not quite:

You can see that I’m filling in the area to the left of the dragon. I’ve finished the first dark band, and am now on a lighter one just above it. Two more to go, balancing the progression of shade values on the dragon’s right. Then it’s a sliver of the voided leaf panel at the top of the work, to finish that off even with the edge of the strips below. And finally – I will sign the piece in the strip beneath the dark panel on the leftmost edge. And it will be done. Maybe two more weeks? More if work deadlines intrude.

Here’s a close-up of the latest two strips:

The sharp-eyed will note that the voided one on the bottom is included in TNCM, on Plate 28:4. It’s from Jean Troveon’s Patrons de diuerse manieres…, published in Lyon in 1533. Those of long memory may remember that I’ve used it before. It’s doubled, and appears on the left and right-most edges of my filet crochet dragon window curtain.

The Troveon’s original is shown single width, but the halved fleur-de-lys motifs seemed to beg use as an all-over pattern. Also, the graph of the original is shown in reverse of mine color placement, with the foreground emphasized rather than the background, more like the treatment in the crocheted piece. (Come to think of it, that knot strip along the top of the curtain might be a candidate for the dark strip at the top of my current sampler section. Hmmm….)


The lighter strip I’m currently working on will be in TNCM2. It’s adapted from a non-graphed (but oh-so-obviously-intended-to-be) design in Ostaus’ La Vera Perfezione del Disegno…, Venice, 1561 and 1567. I’ve chosen to augment it here with the frilly edge treatment.

In any case, the holidays have departed here at String. The tree is undecorated, the cookies, panforte, goose, cassoulet, and other goodies have been consumed or distributed. And the long slog through the year commences.

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I’m still trying to work up my favorite mode of double running graphing. I’ve pretty much dismissed all of the dedicated charting programs. They don’t allow the dot/stitch metaphor that I find far easier to stitch from than heavy lines superimposed on a background lighter grid.

Again, here’s that jester snippet from TNCM. I find this clear enough to stitch direct from the thumbnail, even at its tiny size/poor resolution.


It’s small, but it’s clear. The lines are stitches, the dots represent the “holes” in the cloth being stitched. In something like Aida, Hardanger or Fiddlers Cloth, each dot is an actual hole in the weave. If one is using plain weave linen, each dot corresponds to the interstices between each two (or three, or more) threads over which the stitches are taken.

Here’s the same pattern, graphed out in one of the stitching programs (click on this, to see it better than it is shown in the thumbnail):


Yes, there are some aids built into the stitching program, like decimal bars on the graphs (every 10th bar indicated), and stitch counts along the margins, but those can be added to my style of illustration.

My main beef with ALL of the stitch graphing programs is that they treat back stitch, double running or other straight stitches as an afterthought. Sometimes the back/double running notation can’t be easily mirrored or manipulated (as in KG-Chart LE, which I used for the bit above). In others it always appears as an undifferentiated or symbol-represented line, with no indication of individual stitches. And in all of these programs, scale is limited. They’ve been invented for folk who stitch at larger gauges than I favor. My 18 stitches per inch (36 count linen) is a bit smaller than the 7, 10 or 12 stitches per inch many modern stitchers favor. Patterns plot out waaay too large for easy display or reproduction on book size pages. So far I’ve taken the demos of quite a few of the dedicated stitching programs for a test drive. To date I’ve tried and discarded PCStitch 9; WinStitch, SitchR-XP, DigiStitch, KG-Chart, Easy Cross, Easy Grapher Pro, STOIK Stitch Creator, and Cross Stitch Professional. I will say though that most of them do a fine job at turning photos or drawings into cross stitch. (I am a bit frustrated with programs that allow very limited trial periods. I work. Lots. My hobby investigations take place over months, not days. I would have liked to have gone back and re-tried some of the earlier programs I encountered later on, but was unable to do so because my 3-day trial had expired. Their loss, not mine).

Now I’ve turned to general purpose graphics programs. I need one that lets the user manipulate grid density and representation, that allows mirroring and rotation, and grid-constrained line drawing. Ideally I want one that allows either patterned lines, or that allows some sort of logic-based display controls (black pixel overlaid with white pixel = white pixel as displayed; black pixel overlaid with black pixel = black pixel as displayed; white pixel overlaid with black pixel = black pixel – you get the idea).

I’m not quite at the optimal yet. But I’m getting close. I did the bit below using GIMP – a general purpose open source graphics manipulation tool. Elder daughter (the one jumping up and down, waving madly over there in her dorm room) gave some vital assistance with layer manipulation and masking. Here’s the result (click on this one too):


I’m not quite happy with the dots/voids. I find my original method from TNCM much easier to parse out visually than I do the new version, with dots in the center of each void. But that may be just me.

I’m going to soldier on, looking for something – anything – that can get close to my original. For the record, that was done on my long gone Mac IIcx using Aldus Superpaint. A program that has no direct cognate today.

All advice/leads on possibles are gratefully accepted. In fact, if someone manages to put me onto an effective solution to produce the look in the first snippet above using Windows software, and I end up using their method for my next book, I will reward them with a highly suitable stitching related gift.

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16. Black strip pattern. From page 57 of Louisa Pesel’s Historical Designs for Embroidery, but I worked it outlined and voided instead of foreground stitched.

The patterns I tested on this piece will probably make their way into a sequel to TNCM – once I find a graphing program capable of handling double running stitch with ease, and that can chart out giant repeats at a small, but useful gauge. I want to be able to present largest of these patterns on a single page, and to do it using a background dots and voided line style of presentation which I came up with for use in TNCM, and which I find much easier to follow than regular dark line on background graph paper charts:

tinyjesters.gif (Snippet of Jesters pattern, TNCM 69:2)

What’s next? I’m not sure. I’m certainly not stitched out. I’d like to do another big sampler to try out more patterns, but I haven’t decided on its size or form yet. There’s also the possibility of a set of matched but not matched napkins – six all using the same colors, but all different. There’s also a pile of holiday knitting to achieve between now and the end of the year. Rest assured – I won’t be idle.

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A look at how far I’ve gotten on this last strip, sans frame:


I still think a narrow dark black strip is needed below this panel to establish a visual border along the bottom edge. After that the only stitching left is to fill in some small doodles at the motto’s line ends where my text didn’t span horizon to horizon. And to finish off the thing I need to edge out the piece with mitered fabric strips (sort of a self-matting made from cloth), and figure out whether to frame or rod-suspend the final piece. I’ve been working on this now since the first week of December, averaging between 30 and 45 minutes per day. Not particularly fast, but about what I thought it would take when I embarked on my project.

To answer my far-flung offspring – What’s next? Not sure. I owe a ton of holiday socks, so I may take a knitting interlude. But I haven’t broken the stitch itch yet, and will probably start another randomly executed band sampler, although I haven’t decided it it should include a saying, some alphabets, or be just another collection of patterns I’m auditioning for future publication.

Another possibility is the immense dragon from my favorite source (seen at the left of center in the photo). I’ve already begun charting it up. It’s gigantic. Just the little pepper shaped blossom object at the lower right spans more than 40 stitches. Given that few people appear to be interested in this stitching style at the level of complexity that fascinates me, I’m not sure if a multi-page dragon graph would be of use to anyone else. Still, I might do it just for the fun of just doing it. We’ll see.

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Evidence of progress on my penultimate (possibly ultimate) strawberry panel, way down at the bottom of my Clarke’s Law sampler:


A strip this wide with a voided filling does take a bit of time to complete. Still, I’m chugging along, about a quarter of the way through, perhaps a bit more. And I’m thinking on what to do next. I do owe a ton of holiday socks that need to be knit between now and the end of the year. But I’m just not engaged to produce socks right now. What I want to do is to keep stitching. It’s always a bittersweet moment when a project is within sight of the end. There’s impatience to be done with it and be on to the next. There’s indecision about the direction of the next work. And there’s dissatisfaction with and pride in the current piece mixed 50/50. I can see what I’d have done differently on this one, and I can also point to bits that turned out even better than I expected.

In the mean time, I hope someone got use out of the three part tutorial on stitching logic. Here are recap direct links to all of the posts:

Double Running Stitch Logic 101 – Two Sided Work and Baseline Identification

Double Running Stitch Logic 102 – Working from the Baseline

Double Running Stitch Logic 103 – Accreted and Hybrid Approaches

I also took an earlier and less organized stab at the subject here:

Double Running Stitch Logic

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I’m still working on the accreted section post, but I’ll hop in to answer my own questions from my last note.

First, here’s progress to date on the current strip.


The baseline anomaly in this one may be easier to spot now. If you click on the image above and look closely you’ll see that the pattern is composed of two identical sections that never meet. There’s a void that runs through the entire longitudinal stem. Therefore since the upper and lower sections are totally separate, there are TWO baselines in this one, an upper and a lower one. Here’s a suggested baseline for the upper section:


And the baseline for the lower section:


Sneaky to be sure. But the sneakiness is my fault based on a misinterpretation of the sources I had available.

This pattern is graphed out in TNCM as my (early) interpretation of the center-most design in the lower section of the ultra famous Jane Bostocke sampler in the V&A. At the time I did this I was working from a tiny 2″ square photo in a book, and did not have the luxury of the magnificent photos now available on line. I did the best I could under the circumstances, fudging the little violets in the center somewhat, missing the ornament running down the center of the main vine (which may or may not connect the top and bottom halves of the pattern) and missing the true nature of what looks to be mulberries between the strawberries in my piece. In the original they’re more like little spiral tendrils. I’ve also missed a couple of other fruits/leaves branching from the main line. If I were to re-issue this design now I’d play up “inspired by” in my description. Still even with my clumsy amendations, the pattern is recognizable as a scion of the Bostocke design. Or perhaps not since no one identified it over the past week.

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Another quickie. First apologies to the mathematicians and topologists among us. I should have more correctly stated “any continuous wall maze can be solved by following a right hand (or left hand) wall.” Discontinuous mazes are like double running stitch patterns with breaks in them. They can’t be stitched (traversed) 100% double sided.

I’ve made some progress since the last picture which was taken this Friday past. I’ve selected the penultimate strip for my piece. This one is wide, and I’m working it two-tone.


You get extra points if you can spot (from this partial repeat) something about its baseline. Hint: It’s not that the strawberry pips and texture on the pansy type flower keep this from being a candidate for 100% identical double sided work. With a little bit of cleverness, the two sides could be made to read mostly similar, although the pips and textures would by necessity not be identically placed.

Double points if you can identify the source I used as point of departure. TNCM owners, ssshhhh!

In other news, I’m still working on a follow-up post with more info on baselines, and on the accreted section stitching method.

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While writing and graphing the last post took up the better part of a week’s discretionary time, I did make progress on my Clarke’s Law sampler. Here’s the area to the left of the center motif – the area that balances a similar section to the right. You’ll note that the pattern I used for the tutorial is the lower of the two narrow red double running stitch bands.


Lovely photo courtesy of Younger Daughter, who is much better with a camera than I am.

This week’s follow on post covering the accreted section double running stitch tutorial will be late. I’ve begun it, but some obligations this week will make it hard for me to finish it by Friday.


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