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
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.
Ok. I have no idea of there are Real Professional Researchers out there who are noting similarities of pieces held among far flung collections, but as you can see – the subject continues to fascinate me as an dilettante. Trust me – if readers here are willing to sit still for them, I’ve got a ton more examples to share.
This set is is more difficult to show, in part because the Hermitage Museum has taken down one of the two artifact pages dedicated to two associated cutwork pieces, accession numbers T-8043 and T-8045. The second depicted the castle that I graphed, below. The last time I saw the source artifact at the museum’s website was in November 2014, but the castle can no longer be found from my saved links, or via searches on its name or accession number.
You can find a full-size version of the chart above under the Embroidery Patterns tab at the top of this page.
There were small fragments of partial designs underneath the castle in T-8045 that associated it with this this other Hermitage artifact (T-8043). This one shows a boat with passengers, several happy fish, and a pair of rather blocky lions. The photo below is credited to their official artifact page for T-8043, where it is attributed to Italy, from the late 16th-17th century. They call it “Embroidery over drawn thread”.
And here’s the cousin of the Hermitage artifacts: a VERY similar – that’s similar, not “same” – fragment from the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Accession #1939-9-1. PMA calls out the piece as being 16th century, Italian, done in linen cutwork and drawnwork.
As far as acquisition time frames, the Hermitage samples come from the same Stieglitz Museum source as the other Hermitage embroidery sample I discussed last week. The Philadelphia Museum of Art came by its piece in 1939, as a gift from Mrs. Frank Thorne Patterson (a noted collector of the time).
Now, the Philadelphia example is a truncated photo of a fragment, and has borders that the Hermitage samples lacked (you’ll have to take my word on the castle original), but in technique, composition and subject matter it’s very, very close. It has the bottom edge of what is clearly almost the same castle as the one I graphed, plus a boat, manned by curious, full skirted figures, and some similar birds. Yes, there are small differences in detail in the boat’s ornaments and passengers, plus motifs on each piece that do not appear on the other, but I believe these artifacts do like they might be from the same workshop.
Obviously, to prove this assertion we’d need some sort of detailed fiber analysis – much more than my casual observations. Any grad students out there need a project?
Keep tuned for more episodes of Embroidery Family Reunion!
The idle moments bit that’s taking place on the ground cloth area NOT used up by my two forehead cloths has taken on a life of its own. Frankly, it started out as a delaying tactic – stitching was too much fun to stop and tend to finishing the two now-completed kerchiefs. But it has become more than that.
I started out with another large-fill design, of the scale that rarely gets used in inhabited blackwork work. The motifs are just too big to fit into any but the absolute largest areas in a standard dark outline, fancy fill project. But they are on the scale of the regular fills shown in rectangular areas at the bottom of the famous Jane Bostocke sampler. So why not?
This top fill (for the time being) is quasi-original. I drafted it up, based on this linear design, appearing on another oft-cited sampler, the V&A’s T.14-1931.
I’ve used that design as a teaching piece for years. It’s in TNCM, and a tutorial on double running stitch logic featuring this design, complete with a chart for it is here. For this piece I used the center motif, rotating it fourfold, and elongating the “stems” into a grid with a secondary motif. I stitched it using two plies of the four-ply hand-dyed silk floss I am using.
The next bit was the motto, described in the last post, so I won’t reiterate here.
Just below the motto is another motif that will be featured in the sequels to TNCM – a scrolling grapevine, with very angular, striated branches sprouting off more organic and woody trunks. I wrote about it here before. The space for it was too small to show the entire repeat, so I focused on the center bit, which left the gnarled fat branches off. Again, this is stitched using two strands of the silk.
Below the grapes is a curious design, also from the TNCM sequels. Although it’s shown in the book without a fill, I chose to execute it with one here. The design is entirely mine (one of the few totally unsourced pieces in the collection). On this one I experimented with thread thickness. All of the stitching is double-running, but the heavy outlines are worked with the full four-strand thickness of the floss. The flowers are done in two strands, and the radial symmetry stepped fill is done in one strand.
After this comes another narrow strip pattern across the top (I can’t abide wasted space); plus a narrow border to frame the entire area. The border and possibly the narrow top strip will be done with thread from a second batch of black silk, also hand-dyed with a historically appropriate dye by my Stealth Apprentice. The goal is for me to “beta test” her output, and report back on the stitching qualities of each of the slightly different recipes.
As for the sequel(s) to TNCM – yes. I am working on them. Yes, it’s going slowly. It’s intensive, and having finished the whole book, having to rip it apart and remake it as two or three smaller volumes is proving more problematic than I thought. Some pattern pages need to be re-composed, patterns with cross-references in their historical profiles have to be sorted and kept together to avoid jumping between volumes; the intro material needs to be re-written so that it appears in balanced (and relevant) quantities across the volumes. Indices and referenced bibliographies entries have to be properly assigned to appear in the same volume as the patterns to which they are linked. This is taking time, and frankly, after a whole day of heavy editing for my professional job, sitting down and doing the same thing at night is slow going.
Why am I re-editing and cutting the thing apart? Affordability. Right now at a heavily illustrated 184 pages, including historical essays, how-to material, 75 plates with over 200 individual designs, research discussions, the bibliographies and indexes, for electronic publication, the break even point would put the per-copy cost in the neighborhood of $175, and even more for on-demand paper copy printing. That’s flat out too much. I am hoping to offer smaller books at a more accessible price point.
So apologies. They are coming. Slowly.
The permission sampler is rolling right along. At 30 threads per inch (15 stitches per inch) it’s fairly zooming. Here you see the whole cloth. I’m already mostly done with 25% of the patterned area:
That small bit of solid blue cross stitch at the bottom? I hate it and will be picking it out, presently. Originally I wanted to frame the piece top and bottom with a denser border, done in cross stitch. But I don’t like the look. The bottom border will still be blue, and will still span the entire width of the piece, but will be something directional in double-running, instead.
Now for the two newest strips:
Both are patterns from my forthcoming The Second Carolingian Modelbook. The top one is done in two weights of thread – double strand for the red and green sections of the motif, and single strand for the yellow half-cross stitch ground. There’s no historical precedent that I can find for treating the background of a voided piece this way, but I do like the look of the more delicate field against the heavier outlines. It’s something I’ve used a couple of times now. Since there’s no requirement for this piece to be historically accurate, why not play? The pattern itself does have a source – a stitched sample book of designs in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, with a posted provenance of Spain or Italy, early 1600s.
As for the lower bit, in blue – that one is interesting, too.
Here’s a close-up:
And here’s the source:
This is an excerpt from “Tafel 47” in Egenolff’s Modelbook of 1527. Note that the original is clearly a freehand piece – not graphed. But it translates very neatly to work as a counted pattern. If you look closely at some of the freehand drawings in Egenolff and his contemporaries, you’ll see that (to my eye at least) they were intended to be congruent with counted execution. That’s not to say they couldn’t be done off the count, but with constrained angles, no fine detail, and geometric execution, working them that way is a cinch.
Back to my modern piece. It’s pretty clear that the area below the words will be two columns of strip patterns. I am still thinking of what to do in the top part. I could do more strips of similar proportion. I could do one moderately wide strip (the area there is too narrow north-south for any of the really big patterns in T2CM, believe it or not). Or I might do a collection of spot motifs, or one large all-over. I haven’t decided. More bungee jump stitching ahead, as I continue to design on the fly.
I know I’ve been promising for quite a while, but serious progress is being made on The Second Carolingian Modelbook:
The thumbnail shows the first fifty or so plates, plus their write-up pages. There are seventy-five in all, well over 200 patterns, with each and every one linked to a specific historical artifact or primary source.
About two thirds of the patterns are specific for counted linear styles, or mixed linear/voided works. The rest are solid block unit patterns suitable for background or foreground stitching. They can also be used for knitting, crochet, marquetry, mosaics, or any other craft that uses charted motifs.
Right now I’m touching up a few of the pages, writing a similar number of comments, plus the intro essay, and cleaning up the bibliography. I’m torn about including indices like I did in the first book. I don’t think they were of much use, so I am thinking of omitting them in order to get this puppy finished for once and all.
So that’s where I’ve been, and what I’ve been doing. I promise to trumpet here when the book is available for sale.
[UPDATE: A pile more patterns have been added to the Knitting Patterns page (Button above).]
Yes, I’m still porting old site content over here, but to reassure my embroidery audience, my massive green sampler is still in the works. With the quickie book covers out of the way, I’ve turned back to it:
The pulled background fill does go slowly, but progress is being made. You’re looking at about half of the strip. The large downward pointing clump of lettuce at the left is actually the center. So I’ll be working on this one for a while.
Extra bonus: See that dangling thread? That’s how I end off without adding more knots, or adding bulk that obscures the drawn mesh effect. I take several running stitches down the center of an area that will be tightly overworked. Then after I do that stitching and the loose end is captured, I snip it close to the work. Starting a new thread is done in the same way.
Extra extra bonus: If you click to zoom on the photo, you’ll see a little arrow pointing out a mistake. I’ll be ripping that little bit out. My work isn’t perfect, just proofread.
[NEWS FLASH: Kombu Scarf, Justin’s Counterpane and Mountain Laurel Counterpane patterns have been ported over. All are under the “Knitting Patterns” button above.]
The embroidered notebooks are finished and ready to send off to the recipient:
Each one took a bit over two weeks to finish out. The stitched area is approximately 5.3” x 8.25”, made to slipcover a standard 5”x 4” pocket journal style notebook (Moleskine is the most well known brand, but these were “work alikes” I found in Staples). Before you ask – they’re the same front and back – completely stitched. 🙂
Thanks to everyone who sent encouragement on the port. The first three knitting patterns I reformat and post will be the Mountain Laurel blanket, Justin’s Octagon Blanket and the Kids’ Faux Chain Mail. I wish it were an instant process, but a bit of redrafting is in order. I’ll have all up ASAP.
Also thanks to the folks at Craftgossip.com who picked up the folded ribbon trim method I used on the Steampunk dress. If you’ve found String due to their link, welcome! I’ve got a lot more to show you.
Wondering what we’ve been up to?
Well… You’re looking at it.
After a good run, we’ve closed down wiseNeedle. Sustaining it was no longer possible. I’ll be rescuing the patterns and most of the articles from it, and reposting them here over time. And the yarn review collection will become part of the data trove at (as yet stealthy) Nimblestix. They’re still in Beta, but if you log on with “wiseneedle” after your user name, you’ll get a priority spot in their admission queue.
All String content is here. There will be some inevitable cleaning up as we settle into a new set of internal links. Most but not all links here from external sites should work. We’ll try to fix as many of the broken ones as we can. In the mean time, please take advantage of the much-improved category index and search features.
What have I been stitching?
On our trip to India and on our vacation at Cape Cod I busied myself with small, hand-held stitching projects: two quick book covers for small pocket sized appointment/jotting notebooks.
The finished book cover is adapted from two patterns that will be included in TNCM2. The one in process is a multicolor rendition of a filling in Ensamplario Atlantio, with a twist edging adapted from a larger design, also in TNCM2.
So. Be welcome! Let me know what you think of this new site and about what parts of wiseNeedle should be at the top of my rescue-me queue.