FIRST BUGS, NOW BIRDS
I’m edging into a new neighborhood on the Unstitched Coif Project. This one is inhabited by birds. The first one is stitched and I’m thinking on the fills for the second. You can see him at the center bottom of the piece, now presented in the correct orientation.
I think he looks a bit like a tiny raven, A slightly confused one at that. I could not resist the visual pun of using the feather fill from the collection presented at the official website for his body. You can make out another oddly shaped bird sketched in below and to the right of the pansy/viola flower.
All in all, I’m pleased with the way this is turning out, although like all participants, I wish my project was proceeding faster. Working so tiny is taxing. Mr. Raven for instance took about four hours to complete, counting the fills, outlining, sequin eye, and couched gold feet.
My game of not repeating fills between units is still afoot, although I am finding it harder and harder to find or devise fills for the particularly tiny areas, like the sepal-leaves on the pansy. And I have to go back and add lighter gold banding the the wings of the big bug.
One more challenge is that of adding the overstitched elements – the couched vein leaves and feather markings on Mr. Raven. I do the fills first, then neaten up their edges with the heavier outlines. But the fills obscure the placement of the overstitching. I do that by eye, referring to a printout of the master design. I’ve mentioned before that others do the outlines first, but with the heavy, embossed reverse chain stitch, working inside tiny spaces would be extremely difficult. I leave that to those who are using outline stitch, freehand fills, and speckling.
Today’s agenda will be filling out the spray of leaves at the (now) right edge, adding the gold stems to it, and flooding the few newly surrounded white space areas with spangles.
In other news, last weekend I visited Younger Spawn and surrendered the bespoken Eyeball Bolster Cushion, seen here in its forever home, on the target low back mid-century modern sofa for which it was designed. A perfect fit. The recipient was totally thrilled.
The sharp-eyed will spot my stitching set up near the sunny window. I added a hex wrench to my stitching kit, and can take the thing including the disassembled stand with me when I am on walkabout.
While I was out in Spawn’s neighborhood we went to a garden center/plant nursery. Spawn added to the resident collection of exotic houseplants that make the apartment a livable and calming oasis. I noticed that the prices for large, healthy outdoor plants were much lower there in the suburban Albany/Troy New York area than they are here in the outskirts of Boston, so I bought some plants to augment my growing perennial collection. Here they are, just before I plonked them into their spots.
The big blue pot in back is a Chocolate Eupatorium (aka Joe Pye Weed). It’s a fall bloomer, with white flowers. The white pot in the middle is a red-leafed Astilbe variant, with purple/red flowers in mid to late summer. And the little guy over near the hose is a low-growing creeping sedum, that blooms purple in the fall. They join the transplanted peony, curly leafed Hosta, lemon Hosta, pink Astilbe, and two types of Brunnera (one red leaf, one green) that survived last year’s drought and fierce heat that doomed my Aconitum (wolfbane), and Hellebore. A less poisonous garden this year, but one I hope will outlive my ungentle care.
One last thing – if you are interested in buying my pattern collection The Second Carolingian Modelbook, you may want to do so before 30 June. Amazon Kindle is raising print fees, and because the thing is on a razor thin margin, I will be forced to raise the price. I am sorry for this. I tried hard to keep it under $30.00 US per copy, and it will remain so until the end of June, but after than the price will be going up.
GALLERY OF APPRECIATION
I adore it when I see projects folk have worked up from my designs. I’ve shown off a smattering of them here on String under the tag “Gallery” on the categories list, but I have fallen behind of late. I will try to be more timely posting these fabulous finishes (and works in progress), as tribute and thanks to the creative people who have returned joy to me.
Right now I have several such submissions lurking in my email inbox. Apologies if you have sent photos to me that haven’t appeared yet. It’s a big inbox, and I am combing back, looking for the flags. Names and photos appear here with the permission of those who sent them. I also have some requests out to folk who have sent me photos, but from whom I do not yet have express consent to post. And if you’d like your work to appear here in a subsequent gallery post, please drop me a line. My Gmail address is kbsalazar (in the usual email format).
So in no particular order other than my stumbling around in the dark, I present the first of what I hope will be a renewed series of proud pieces.
The Second Carolingian Modelbook
Sent in by Alex Logsdon, a genuine original composition featuring many motifs from T2CM, selected, snipped, and arranged in true “bungee jump stitcher” mode – picked on the fly and fitted to the space available. There haven’t been many finished objects from my latest book, and this one made my heart sing.
The New Carolingian Modelbook
Elaine Cochrane is working on a big purple band sampler, and has included in it some strips from TNCM. Elaine is also choosing designs on the fly in bungee-jump mode. I love seeing her piece evolve with the addition of each new bit.
Ensamplario Atlantio, Volumes I and II
It’s hard for me to separate out the fills in the two volumes in the EnsAtl series. With only a few exceptions, even I can’t remember which ones are in which book. V Louise Behrman is working on a couple of projects using the patterned fills from the books. One is a lovely bit of inhabited blackwork – panels for a casket (a small fabric covered keepsake/display box), the other is destined to be made up into an adorable needle book (a small fabric folder to keep needles safe, dry, and at hand). Both images below are (c) V Louise Behrman, 2022, and appear here with permission.
Epic Fandom Stitchalong – Adaptations
Long time friend and occasional SCA mentor Robert Himmelsbach was a stealth beta tester for some of the bands appearing as part of Epic Fandom. He used the dinosaur strips to make collar and cuff ornamentation for an otherwise historically accurate Renaissance era shirt, proudly proclaiming his ancient lineage and participation in that group’s pre-history (provided you look closely enough at his outfit). He is intending the pirate strip for a second shirt.
Links and/or info about the books mentioned are at the “My Books” tab above. The Stitchalong also has its own tab, above.
THE SECOND CAROLINGIAN MODELBOOK!
I am delighted to announce that The Second Carolingian Modelbook is finally out and available for purchase!
I have listed it for sale in hard copy via Amazon.
If you have been following along over the past decade you know that it has been long in the making, and you have seen many (but by no means all) of the patterns it contains here on String-or-Nothing as I play-tested them in my own projects.
To recap for those new to this site – T2CM is the sequel to my The New Carolingian Modelbook, which was published by a disreputable outfit back in the mid 1990s and is now out of print.
Like the first book, it is a treasury of charted designs for needleworkers and artisans. The 75 plates present over 250 individual borders, motifs, or all-over designs. These include both linear designs suitable for double running stitch, back stitch or other similar treatments; and block unit designs, suitable for long armed cross stitch, lacis/buratto, and other solid fill work of the time. Block unit patterns are also useful for modern interpretation using plain old cross stitch, filet crochet, tapestry crochet, or stranded colorwork knitting. There is good representation of designs appropriate for voided (reserva) work – both with and without accompanying linear outlines.
None of the designs in T2CM duplicate those of my earlier book. The majority of the contents are redactions of designs appearing in paintings and artifacts, done to the best veracity I could achieve given the imprecision of many of the originals. My charting methods are clear and easy to work from. All historical works are fully documented, and include the date of reference and inclusion (many of these pieces are subject of ongoing study, and their provenances/dates change as scholars reconsider them). Many are accompanied by discussions of pattern “families” or other observations on origin or use. All original “inspired by” designs are so noted. The book also contains hints on some historical stitching methods, a supplementary bibliography, and a ready reference chart to help users pinpoint the designs by place/time of origin and unit count. And I’ve kept my vow to release the thing in print as affordably as possible.
Now, who might be interested? Well, it’s rather a niche market, to be sure, but potential users include needleworkers interested in creating new works with firmly documented historical origins; stitchers, knitters, and crocheters who delight in the past but want to mine those aesthetics for contemporary use; and mosaic and marquetry specialists or other artisans who rely on graphed inspiration for their own designs.
Is this book suitable for beginners? To be sure, it’s not a how-to piece with clearly defined projects laid out in final form along with shopping lists for materials. But there is a range of patterns presented, from the small and simple to those of mind-bending complexity. I believe that a beginner who has needle, thread, countable fabric and motivation could use T2CM as fodder for self-paced learning, and produce stellar pieces along the way.
So please enjoy! Pass the word! And feel free to send along questions, or post pix of works done from T2CM’s pages. Nothing thrills me more than seeing what mischief the “pattern children” attempt while cavorting with the creative and inspired out in the wide, wide world!.
Yes, it’s true. I have reached the Age of Post-Employment.
After decades of proposal management for high tech companies, I’ve packed it in. No more deadlines. No more herding cats. I could go on listing the things I will not miss, but it would quickly turn into a rant. What I will miss are the in-the-trenches comradery; the energy and off the wall ideas of all the mad inventors; seeing technologies evolve in real time; and the thrill of visiting, viewing, or reading about the final projects that came from the bids on which I have worked.
Still, I’m happy to walk away from it, noting that the average span of tenure in proposal pursuit is something under 5 years. Very few people make it a lifelong career as I did. And even fewer can boast that they survived ulcer-free, and never missed a deadline in 41 years.
To celebrate my new freedom, The Resident Male, a specialist in surprise rather than programmed gift-giving, has presented me with a Wonderous Treasure Box: a tabletop jewelry armoire, shown here on the dining room sideboard, but destined for my dresser.
The drawers are fitted out with small compartments, both sides open up to reveal hooks for necklaces and bracelets, and the top hinges up with a mirror on the inside, and another storage bin beneath. I will add some canvas inserts to the side door inside panels, so I have mesh on which to hang hook-style earrings. The wood and build of this piece are magnificent. I adore it, and have showered him with copious thanks.
What will I do with myself besides organizing my slovenly dresser and precariously piled bling-midden? Well, there’s plenty going on here, and I will be in the thick of it.
We are at the cusp of a major basement renovation project, with the goal of updating a smelly, always-damp, slightly moldy cavern of 1960s vintage cheap paneling and suspended ceiling tiles into a comfortable, clean and usable space. This includes the area where my desk sat, the kids’ old TV area (including a ramshackle home bar, repurposed into shelving for my needlework library); the craft/sewing room; a strange “leftover” alcove at the back of the house; and what can be described as a bathroom only in the most generous terms (right now it’s just closet hiding a fitfully inoperative toilet and a population of house spiders).
The goal is to make a great room with a comfortable TV/sitting area at one end, that can also be used as guest space,plus an exercise area at the other end; a true half-bath with a sink and working fixtures; a functional storage/pantry alcove to house our freezer; and a craft/sewing room with actual useful and accessible storage and organization space. My office area and needlework library will go upstairs to one of the spawns’ former bedrooms, now that those are no longer tenanted year-round. Demolition should be beginning on the project by the end of April.
In addition to that, there are all my own projects. I can (gasp) STITCH DURING THE DAYTIME on a weekday! A strange concept for sure, and one I am still getting used to. It still feels wrong, like ducking out of class, or skipping an appointment – but I suspect that feeling will eventually pass.
One problem I have to solve is with Big Green. Remember that worn area I noted a few posts ago? When I unmounted the thing to try to capture the ground above the abrasion, it gave way before I put any stress on it – falling to pieces and making an enormous hole. The hole is beneath the “keeper bar” that holds the fabric in the frame’s roller, and is clearly seen here. I’ve flipped the thing – this is the right side, but it’s on the frame with the rollers on top rather than behind, in an effort to make the largest possible area accessible for stitching.
See that narrow border that’s part of the [grapes, hops, berries] strip? I have just enough room to complete it below, with about an inch left over. Obviously when I go to finish this piece I will need to trim it out with a border strip of fabric, and do it hanging scroll style. But that’s in the future. Right now the problem is that I don’t have enough room in the frame to stitch that narrow bit. Once I am done with the main body of the current panel I will have to take the sampler off the big frame and figure out how best to work on it in my sit-upon hoop frame – how to avoid abrasion and distortion of the established stitching as I relocate the hoop, and how not to stress the already-fragile threads of the weave itself. I may even end up having to work in hand, something I dread doing.
And yes – I brought this on myself, both for letting the piece languish so long and suffer such abuse that it weakened in the first place, and for choosing an overly wide and ambitious border to finish. I should have picked my second choice, one that was about an inch less tall. Live and learn…
Oh. Folk will also be happy to hear that I’m diving back into T2CM – updating some of the blurbs to synch with scholarship that has evolved since I started the project (museums have revisited the dating and provenance of many of their fragments in the past 15 years); and with nothing to stop me, I hope to have it buffed, re-proofed, and ready for publication later this year.
ANOTHER WEEK. ANOTHER MOTIF
Moving on from the dolphins, we leap to the next motif. I wanted something both darker and less dense than the massive meshy panel, and hit on this column/flower meander. It’s another one from my ever-forthcoming The Second Carolingian Modelbook (T2CM – it includes both linear patterns and block unit designs).
The columns design appears on Plate 70 of my book, but it’s source is a 16th century Italian openwork piece in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Accession 20.186.27
The museum description is rather cryptic. It says “Bobbin lace, buratto, punto a rammendo.” To me it looks like buratto – darning on a woven gauzy ground, and not bobbin lace or a withdrawn thread technique (punto a rammendo). Buratto and lacis are very close, with lacis being worked over a hand-knotted net mesh, and buratto being worked on a purpose-woven gauzy linen fabric. It’s structure is not unlike Penelope canvas, but made from much finer threads with much wider gaps between them. It’s effect is entirely that of an open mesh – no where near as dense as the Penelope. Admittedly this piece might be lacis. I am not seeing knots at the junctures of the meshes, but sharper photos might reveal their presence.
While my treatment of it in plain old cross stitch isn’t necessarily something that can be defended as a common historical usage, the use of these designs for both openwork (lacis or buratto, or even withdrawn thread designs) and surface embroidery on the count is well documented. Since I am not doing a historical piece I chose POCS because it on this ground with only one strand of silk, presented an airy and lighter contrast to the mesh technique, and the long-armed cross stitch and Montenegrin stitch that I’ve used in elsewhere on this piece.
Oh. And the source for the dolphins? Plate 29 of T2CM. But it is my rendition of an illustration in Lady Marian Alford’s Needlework as Art (Plate 42), originally published in 1886. There it is cited as 16th century Italian. I tracked it down. That piece from Lady Alford’s collection and shown in her book is now in custody of Belton House, Lincolnshire UK, and registered with that country’s National Trust (#426944). I know of no no on-line photos of it. If you do, please share the citation in the comments.
As mentioned before, the original shown that I drew up for T2CM features the dolphins and connectors (but not the rondels) and the background of the original is voided – filled in, but with a grid of tiny one-unit squares.
When will T2CM be out? I know it’s been a very long wait, for which I apologize. However I do know that if all goes well, my schedule will emerge from some significant time constraints in late spring, and I will be able to devote myself to publication. I am loathe to promise after so long, but 2021 has every indication of being The Year.
REACTIVATION AND SPOILING
I admit it. I was horribly spoiled this holiday past.
My family has fitted me out with all sorts of stitching goodies for the new year. There were silk threads and linen grounds from my mom and the Elder Offspring – enough to keep me going for quite a while. In addition, The Resident Male drew inspiration from a recent Facebook post (plus the general state of the stitching supply midden next to my favorite chair), and gave me a mercer’s chest from Sajou in which to store my embroidery supplies and tools. A princely gift. And yes. It’s already full.
Younger Offspring hand crafted me a Special Object. That book next to the chest – assembled and bound, with an embroidered and beaded cover all of their own devising, it’s full of graph paper pages – perfect for stitch design and doodling. I think my family knows me very, very well.
During the supply sort and consolidation to populate my new tiny chest, I stumbled across the thread I had been using for my Long Green Sampler. That’s a project from about six years ago. I was working on it just before we departed for our expat stay in India. I brought it with me but had no well lit comfortable place in which to work on it, so it languished. I poked at it a couple of times in the years since, but I hadn’t set it up for reactivation. I remounted it and set in again yesterday evening.
No, that’s not a real cat. I would love to have one, but I am very allergic to them. It’s a stuffed toy, liberated from the Spawns’ menagerie. It usually does duty as a very conveniently sized elbow rest, but here he’s blocking sun glare. He can be both obliging and versatile, although (sadly) not very affectionate.
To reprise, Long Green is a long strip sampler, done in Au Ver a Soie’s Soie d’Alger, in color #1846 on 40 count linen (20 stitches per inch). I am picking my strip patterns on the fly, mostly from my ever forthcoming book, The Second Carolingian Modelbook. This particular strip features my attempt at the tightly pulled and totally overstitched meshy background found on so many historical artifacts worked in the voided style. The design is one that appears in museum collections, and that exists in several clearly related versions. I’ve nicknamed this one “The Lettuce Pattern” for obvious reasons.
My redaction with its curious Y-spring companion edging is largely based on this version in the Boston Museum of Fine Arts collection, Accession 99.176:
The date attribution has wandered forward a bit over the years, but is now listed as probably 17th century, possibly being of Spanish or Sicilian origin. Here is another example of Lettuce, also from the MFA, now cited as being Spanish and 17th century, Accession 95.1116 :
Although this one shows quite a bit more in-motif detail than the one above, it is still clearly a closely related pattern, and not a slice off the same original artifact. Both of these have meshy grounds, worked by tightly stitching and displacing the warp and weft, bundling them tightly together – NOT by cutting and withdrawing threads, then stitching over the remaining scaffolding. That’s another technique but distinctly different from the one employed here.
Here’s another example of the Lettuce family. This one features a simple boxed ground (no drawn meshy work here). The original is in the Brussels Museum of Art and History, Accession 20048516. The description cites it as being stitched in red silk, and dates it to the 1500s, but does not include a geographical provenance.
The Brussels example has another special spot in my heart. You can’t see more than a sliver from my clip, but it pairs Lettuce up with another favorite design, proving them to be contemporaries.
As you can see from the photos of my green piece, I’m about half-way done with this band. Here are the others above it, a photo montage shot and composed by fellow India Expat, artist, and friend Tamar Alsberg. I’m a bit greyer now, but so are we all in these salon-challenged days.
Some highlights – bit of braiding in the lower left was a ton of fun – the solid stripes are done in Montenegrin Stitch, and the bit between my hands in the center top – that’s the back. Double running rules!
If you still want more info on these individual bands, you can call up the whole project (in reverse chronological order) here.
FLOCK OF STUPID CUPIDS
All that’s left to do is to tweak the corners. They don’t match, which is fine, but they should at least be of similar density. It’s also interesting to note that my so-called even-weave linen isn’t quite even. There’s a distinct difference in proportion between the plume flowers done horizontally and those done differently. The verticals are a bit elongated, north south. The same slight distortion also shows up in the proportions of the bottom cupid strip.
And along the way, I found yet another Separated at Birth example – possibly not siblings cut from the very same artifact strip, but close cousins at the very least.
Here’s an example of the derpy cupid and cockatrice panel from the collection of the Art Institute of Chicago, Accession # 1907.665a (in case the link breaks).
And here’s the same design, in the collection of the Cooper-Hewitt, Accession # 1971-50-96. This is the one I graphed up for eventual inclusion in the forthcoming Second Carolingian Modelbook, from which I stitched my rendition. Note that although the stitch counts in the bit below and my rendition are identical, my sample is distorted by the proportions of my ground cloth’s weave compared to the original, which is distorted a bit in the other direction.
AIC dates theirs to 1601 to 1700, and it came to them as part of a Rogers Fund donation in 1907. CH’s sample came from one of my personal heroines – Madeline Hague, collector, curator and historical stitching researcher, and was donated to the museum with other items of her personal collection as a bequest. CH dates this from the 16th-17th century. Both agree on an Italian provenance.
There are some subtle differences between them that I didn’t notice until I had actually stitched up a length of the design. The birds on the narrow companion border on the top edge, although of the same design, do not face in the same direction on both strips. The bow in the AIC example is a bit more detailed, as are the sprouting separators between the cupids and cockatrices, but the CH’s sample has more detail on the cupid’s chest.
Still, the similarities do convince me that the two strips might have been worked from the same broadside sheet or modelbook illustration, or copied from a prior stitchery (or each other). They might have been worked by two people for use on the same original artifact or set of artifacts – cuffs, matching towels, bed hangings or sheets. One intriguing clue is the fact that each one sports a cut end, where the embroidered length is clearly snipped right through the stitching, and a “selvedge edge” where the embroidery deliberately stops before the cloth is cut (on the right on the CH sample, and on the left on the AIC snippet).
So. Were these used in tandem? Are they contemporary? Were they copied from the same source? Were they copied one from the other? We have no way of knowing. But as goofy as this cupid looks, he clearly has a mysterious and secret past.
UPDATE – NOVEMBER 2022
I have found another Cupids artifact, at a different museum. This one is from Boston Museum of Fine Arts, Accession 95.1125.
The museum says it is probably of Spanish or Italian origin, and does not posit a date. To confuse everyone all the more, it has the same breast/chest detail as the Cooper Hewitt sample, BUT it also has the lower bow detail of the AIC snippet. It also has the companion border of twigs and birds facing in opposite directions top and bottom, like the AIC holding. And as I examine these all more closely, I find that small details on the Cooper Hewitt sample differ among the repeats shown. For example, look at that chain of “bubble balls” that emerges from the flowered tree in between the cupids and roosters. The direction of the vertical striping on them isn’t uniform. Again the AIC and MFA samples are closer in their treatment of that bit.
At long last. Framed and hung up in the bedroom.
Obviously I now have to paint the bedroom walls…
I’m quite happy with the way this turned out. The frame is simple enameled steel, in deep navy. I ended up going to Walden Framer in Lexington, MA. Mr. Ed Pioli, the owner and artisan in chief, did an excellent job at a reasonable price. I will be bringing my other as-yet unframed pieces there, too.
To answer more questions on the piece’s composition, mostly from other people outside the framing shop when I was there. No, neither of us is a follower of astrology, and it’s not a panel depicting anyone’s sign. It’s just two koi, in a traditional arrangement. And no – there isn’t a boy-koi, and a girl-koi (or any other manifestation of yin/yang) intended. It’s just two koi swimming in a circle. And no, that’s not real gold thread. It’s high quality imitation gold sold for Japanese embroidery. And no, I didn’t sew it on a machine, I did it by hand. Really and truly. (People are curious about the strangest things.)
What am I working on now? Well, the Great Tablecloth/Napkins project is done, but I still itch to stitch. So I’m just doodling. Filling up a small piece of linen, waiting for the Inspiration Fairy to chuck a brick through my mental window.
I’ve written about this design before. I think this time I’ll circle the center panel with other, narrower bands. Again, no set plan, I’ll just pick them as I go along, with no composition agenda in particular in mind. Eventually I’ll figure out what to stitch next.
It’s taken me a week or so to get this post up and out. In the mean time my doodle has grown, but still has no plan.
The lower design is a curious one. Although it’s a clear repeat with the rather bulbous naked cherub alternating with the cockatrice, there is little symmetrical inside the repeat. Close attention has to be paid to this one because even the internal framing mechanism (the bar and beads below the feet of each) has a different counts in each of its two instances, and the usual urn or leafy unit between the creatures also exists in two incarnations. It’s a curious one, for sure, but fun, and is keeping me on my toes.
Both of these designs will be in T2CM, which is moving again towards release. No date yet, but watch this space.
EIGHT IS ENOUGH. ALMOST.
My doodle napkins. All eight complete.
Overall, I’m quite pleased. They were each individually fun and quick to stitch. I did not agonize over them (although there are no mistakes). Napkins are transient goods, destined for hard use, gravy stains, and wine spills. Therefore I did them “quick and dirty.” I used knots, rather than agonizing about ending off my double running stitch invisibly. I used launder-me DMC and Sajou cotton threads, not silk. And the napkins themselves after shrinking in the machine, sometimes through multiple washes, are all slightly different sizes, with almost a full inch of width/length difference between the smallest and the largest. Frankly, I don’t care – they will all serve their purpose quite well.
This shot is for Anne, who asked to see how I was wrapping the borders around the corners of the main motifs:
I’m not going back and adding a secondary border to the first one I did. Or at least today I’m not thinking about doing it. The others were exercises in educated fudging. I was thrilled that the border on the last one (lowest green one on the right) worked out perfectly, both horizontally and vertically, to make four neat and symmetrical corners. That was serendipity, not planning.
Now on to the tablecloth. This one is going to be a challenge. I’m using my sit-on hoop, with the bulk of the cloth gathered up and stuffed into a pillowcase that sits on my lap behind the hoop while I stitch. Not optimally comfortable, but necessary to keep the thing quasi-clean while I work. The cloth itself as a ground is not as easy to count or as forgiving as were the napkins. The threads are quite spindly and rather slubby, but I’m managing.
The design, like those on the napkins, is from my ever-forthcoming Second Carolingian Modelbook. This one in particular is a challenge. What you see here is less than an EIGHTH of the total repeat. This pattern is the largest all-over I have encountered. The artifact I charted it from (below) showed it in voided form, with the background filled by a heavily overstitched and meshy effect ground. I am only working the foreground in double running. Time is too short and tablecloth-hazard too likely for me to invest months in the very labor-intense original treatment of the background.
Special thanks to Christine Lee Callaghan (SCA – Lady Cristina Volpina), who unearthed the artifact from the collections of the University of Rhode Island, and provided spectacular photos of it to me, a byproduct of her own academic research. The image below is hers, appearing here by permission
THE DOODLE NAPKIN PROJECT
A few of you have asked about the doodle napkins – a set of eight, all coordinating, but each one different. With six now stitched and number seven on my frame, I attempt to answer.
A while back I wrote about the pre-finished napkins and tablecloth I bought from Wayfair. While I note that neither the KAF Fete napkin set nor the Toscana tablecloth is still in their inventory, there are several similar products available from them and from Target, Overstock, Amazon and other sources.
Be warned! Prewashing these is an absolute necessity. They are linen-look cotton, or linen/cotton blends, and can be expected to shrink appreciably. So toss them in a nice, abusive load – like a hot wash with some other light color towels or sheets, and have at it. Compare them when they emerge, and if some are not quite as shrunken as the others (as happened to me) run them through again just to be sure.
My almost even weave napkins firmed up quite a bit, becoming even closer to a true even weave count, which was a surprise. But I didn’t change my plans for all of that. I always intended to work my stitching along one edge only, eliminating the need to turn corners, or worry about skew counts. I’d present them at table as shown, folded in quarters.
Now. How to begin…
First, I had to have designs. Simple for me. I am drawing mostly from my forever forthcoming The Second Carolingian Modelbook, playtesting more of the designs, and using the experience to flog myself towards getting over the hurdle of publication. I’m working directly from those pages, and am not bothering to rechart anything specifically for this use. Not even the narrow companion borders (more on this below).
I am also being quite cavalier with layout on the napkins. They are pre-hemmed. I am trying to use the same north/south orientation for all of them, keying off the placement of the brand tag on the back, but I am examining the two candidate ends closely, to pick the one that is the most “true”. By that I mean the one whose hemming runs closest to being true on the count. There are a couple of napkins that are hemmed slightly skew, and I wanted to make the stitching on them look to run as parallel as possible to the edges.
OK. With my chosen side to embellish identified, I folded the napkin carefully in half, and used a pin to mark the center point. Then I measured in from the inner edge of the machine-stitched hemming detail, and placed another pin perpendicular to the first. I admit I eyeballed the first one, then just used it as the paradigm for placing the second pin on the subsequent napkins (no actual measuring tape was involved). Pin placement is shown below, with the napkin mounted on my sit-on hoop.
Once the center point and work boundary are established I begin. That’s it. No basting guide lines, no other prep. Just grabbing my threads and going. I admit that others may enjoy working with basted guidelines, but for something this small, where the only point of reference is the center, I don’t bother. Feel free to castigate me for lazy prep.
Threads… Hmm. Which did I use?
The red was easy. When we were in Paris, I bought a box of Sajou four-strand cotton embroidery floss in red. I had always intended on using it for a set of napkins. I had bought linen there, too, but decided that I wanted to use that linen for other pieces that would be less “endangered” by gravy than dinner napkins.
The Sajou Retors du Nord cotton floss is put up on cards of 20 meters. I am using a red, #2409. I started with a box of five cards, and have used about half of my yardage on just the four napkins. For the green napkins, I’m using plain old DMC cotton six-strand floss in #890, in standard pull skeins of 8.7 yards (just shy of 8 meters). I am stitching with three plies of each thread, even though the Sajou is a tiny bit thinner than the DMC. I am enjoying using the Sajou because it is finer, shinier, and smoother, but I am simultaneously disappointed in the maker’s quality control. Each of the three Sajou cards I have used so far has had component plies with knots, shredded sections, or snags – where the individual plies are kinked and not all of the same length in a given span of thread. While the DMC thread is more matte and a bit rougher in finish, in over 50 years of using it, I have never run into a less-than-perfect skein. It’s possible that I bought a box of Sajou made on a bad day, but three out of three cards with faults is not what I expected.
OK. The thread is ready, I’ve got my main design in hand, I’ve got the napkin mounted on my frame, with the center point and top limit of my design marked. Now what?
Starting at the center (red arrow above on Napkin #7, showing the point indicated by the now removed pins), I begin playing with one of the narrow edgings – usually something less than four units tall. I pick one from the book, or I make on up on the spur of the moment. In this case, I’m using a pretzel edging of my own devising, also in T2CM.
Using a separate thread for the companion edging, I work three or four repeats off in one direction – usually to the left (for no reason in particular), then I move the working thread out of the way (sometimes winding the excess on a temporary pin), and using another thread, begin my main motif strip – also working out from the center, stitching over a 2×2 thread grid. In the example above, the weird double leaf meander. The threads trail off at the upper left because I don’t want to re-position my hoop until I absolutely have to. Once I move it over, I’ll take each of those stragglers up in turn, and use it to completion.
After I’ve gotten a bit laid down, I re-evaluate the narrow companion border. If I don’t like it, I pick it out and work another of the same width. Once I’m happy with it I also work it below the main motif. It’s obvious in the photo above, that I tried out the pretzels, liked them, and went on to stitch up my first length of thread in the strip of it above the main motif, and am now working on its sibling, below.
After I’ve gotten my design established continue on, happily, working my main motif, and eking out the companion borders as I go along but lagging a bit behind, until I’ve stitched the main motif close enough to the end. Once a full repeat of my main motif is on the fabric, I rarely refer to the printed pattern again, working instead from the already-stitched bit.
When I get to the leftmost edge, I take up the companion borders again and improvise a corner turn for them. If I’ve kept count true the upper left and lower right corners should be matches, as should the lower left and upper right. Or if I’m very lucky, all four will match. Or if my improvised corner is looking awkward, I’ll just butt the ends. In any case, I am not agonizing about the corner treatment. I’ve seen enough period artifacts where it’s clear that the historical stitcher didn’t invest much agony in them either. (When I’m done with all eight napkins, I’ll post on improvising the corners, because this note is getting too long.)
As to which patterns to do on the next napkin, or what to use on the coordinating tablecloth – it’s all whim. For the tablecloth, I will probably pick one or more of the largest all-over designs from my books, either to work as a large rectangular medallion in the center or three evenly spaced smaller areas, but I won’t be working strips around the entire perimeter, nor will I be working stripes across the whole width of the table. And that’s the only advance planning I’ve done so far.