OK. Just before the Thanksgiving holiday we decided to get some new table linens, so we would have a nice table setting for the finished dining room’s holiday debut. Given the busy green floral wallpaper and intricate rug, I wanted something monochrome for contrast. Also something that presented more of a hand-made welcome rather than stark white formality was in order.
I looked around a bit and settled on these affordable cotton or cotton/linen blend washables from Wayfair:
On the left above is the tablecloth, showing a corner, and on the right, one of the napkins. Although they aren’t a matching set, they are close enough in color and texture to coordinate, plus both sport a small openwork detail. For the record, the napkins are branded “Fete” and are cotton. The tablecloth is branded “Toscana” and is a polyester/linen blend. Both are machine wash, machine dry cool/low. The tablecloth is no-iron.
You can see from the tape measure on the napkins, I had an ulterior motive. I always have an ulterior motive…
Eventually I intend to do some embroidery on these. My thought is to do a strip of a different voided or linear design on each one, in a deep, wine red, using the thread I bought at Sajou in Paris when we were there. But there was no time to begin before the holiday, so on the table they went. Thankfully all of the linens survived turkey, wine, cranberry sauce and the rest, and were then sent through the recommended gentle wash/low dry cycle. And it’s a good thing that I did so.
Blurry photo aside, you can clearly see that the four napkins I used have shrunk considerably when compared to a napkin from the other set-of-four, as yet unwashed – the bottom one in the stack. The tablecloth did not shrink appreciably.
As far as thread count on the napkins – in the before state they were approximately 18×22 threads per inch. The count of the most-shrunken one is now much closer to 24×24 threads per inch. The tablecloth remains very close to 30×30 threads per inch. I won’t guarantee that either are true even-weave, but for me, they are close enough.
In conclusion, I do recommend a hearty pre-wash and deliberate shrink prior to any counted stitching, if that’s what you want to do on these. And I may end up touching up the napkins with an iron before I use them again – embroidered or not.
For the time being, this project is taking a far-back, back seat. I have a ton of holiday and bespoken gift knitting to complete, first.
At long last! The end of the talk from 2014. I hope it inspired you to look up some of these examples, and perhaps, start your own piece of work in one of the styles presented.
In the off chance I haven’t sent folks screaming off into the woods, here is the penultimate installment of images from my chat on historical counted thread embroidery, given back in 2014.
And even more. Continuing on with the visuals from my 2014 talk on historical counted thread embroidery.
More from the 2014 Schola talk on historical counted thread embroidery.
Continuing from yesterday’s post, here are the next ten images from my Schola talk on historical counted thread embroidery, originally given in 2014.
And here’s another finish!
This was a super quick project, barely a week from cast-on to final block. Even though I still have a couple of ends to tuck in, I consider it done.
Younger Daughter bespoke this, having noted the popularity of screaming yellow this Fall season, and a similar trend towards heavier, highly textured knits.
This shoulder/mini shawl is done in machine washable Merino sport weight, from Gems. I used the May Day Shawl pattern by Zabeth Loisel-Weiner, available for free on Ravelry. It took about 2.3 skeins of the yellow. I consider it a very simple project – the instructions and charts were spot on, and very clear. Lots of “bang-for-the-buck” here in terms of visual complexity vs. effort invested. If you are looking for a first serious lacy knitting project, this is not a bad place to start.
That being said, I have to say I detest knitting bobbles and nupps. These are bobbles. I tamed them somewhat by knitting backwards – that is learning to work the back-again bit of each bobble working off of my right hand needle, so I didn’t have to flip the work over to purl back in the middle of each little bump. If you haven’t tried this yet, it’s well worth the learning curve investment for little back-and-forth scraps like bobbles and Entrelac.
A quick word on blocking if I may. Lacy knitting needs to be blocked to within an inch of its life – as tightly as you can. Here’s the before photo, and the mid-block photo:
If you count the 2×2-inch squares of the checked sheet I block on, you can see that pinned out (right), the thing is almost twice as big as it was before pinning (left).
How do I block? I admit I’m not the most precise or assiduous, but I do try, at least a bit to keep things neat and square. The black and white sheet, although an eye-popping Peter Max background is very helpful in estimating and meeting target measurements, and keeping 90-degree angles true. I bought it at a discount/close-out store years ago when shopping for inexpensive bedding for the girls to take to summer camp. I knew that if the sheets survived, they would be perfect for this use. (Plaids, Tattersall checks, and ginghams would also work).
I dampened the knitting, and spread my sheet over an area rug to provide anchorage for my pins. Then I threaded blocking wires across the top of the piece, slipping them into every edge “purl bump.” Then I inserted additional wires along the join line between the edging and the center triangle. I pinned the top wire down first, spreading the work along its length, then stretched the piece down the spine, pinning the pointed junction of the two side wires. Then I pinned the side wires out as far as I could manage, making sure to keep the angles (as measures vs. the checks) true. I had to jockey and adjust them a few times, but eventually I was satisfied. Then and only then did I place a single pin at each of the edging’s points. If I had started with the edging points, the center triangle would have been deformed. Using the wires keep the piece from developing internal “scallops” corresponding to the pins placed in the edging.
No lie – it is tedious. But it’s worth it.
Now on to other things.
I say goodbye to this tiny little embroidered scrap. It’s the finest gauge I ever worked – over 38 stitches per inch on 80-ish or so count muslin, using standard black sewing thread:
It started out as an experiment, to see if I could do a coif at that gauge. Soon after I got started it met with an accident, and was never finished. That was about 35 years ago, easily. Why goodbye? I’ve mailed it off to become part of A Larger Project. The East Kingdom doll project was on display at the 50th anniversary, and still lives. About the only thing people remember me for is that I embroidered, so I am sending this snippet to the curators/creators to be a prop for the doll that represents me. Maybe they’ll make a tiny flat frame for it. That would be sweet. Pix if I get some, I promise.
And finally, another start. I have two balls of precious multi-color yarn – rather pricey Schoppel Zauberball Crazy fingering weight. I adore just looking at them. But it was time to put at least one to good use. So I began casting around for something fun to do with the very long repeat. I’ve tried a lot of the popular projects that use Zauberball. And I didn’t feel like working on some of the others. But then I remembered that I HAD a design of my own. I did up Kureopatora’s Snake in that yarn – a DK weight variegated with a long repeat. It has always been the most popular original pattern on any of my websites. So why not try it with a smaller gauge yarn and explore the possibilities?
Here I am. Following the pattern as written, with three exceptions:
- Using the Zauberball Crazy fingering weight instead of the Noro Kureopatora DK.
- Using size 5 US (3.75mm) instead of 6 US (4.0mm) to make the thing more airy
- Working across 40 stitches instead of the 30 specified.
You can see that both the color progression and shaping are beginning to present themselves. I think that if I had a chance to rename this now established pattern, I’d call it Chanterelle, instead. More on this one as it grows…
Thanks to Elaine, whose comment on the Spider Flower post sent me off on a new research quest, a group that had long intrigued me has now been solidly planted.
I had seen many examples of what appeared to be a related set of stitched fragments, from many museums, collected over many decades – mostly by amateurs in the late 1800s/early 1900s. These were identifiable as being a group because of shared motifs, designs, treatments, materials and overall look. But the museum IDs and book citations were all over the place, citing individual examples as being from anywhere from the Greek Islands, to Sicily, Northern Africa (unspecified), Spain, and the Italian mainland. For example, all of the patterns on this page can be found in Lipperheide’s Muster altitalienischer Leinenstickrei, Volume 1, published in 1881, credited as Italian works. Dates also ranged widely with some examples being attributed as early as the 1500s, and others tagged as late 1800s to early 1900s. I do note however that comparing current tags to my old notes, over the last few years several museums have updated their provenance notations to locate this group in Azemmour, Morocco.
We’ve already seen the Spider Flower, this example from the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, Accession 93.208. Again, their sample is undated, and is tagged as Spanish or North African, with a note that it is “Italian embroidery.”
Here are some others of the same group. This one I tag as the Pomegranate Meander, because the ornament on the diagonals has swollen into an enormous fruit, and the center flower has shrunk down to a skeletal remainder. This sample is quoted from the Cleveland Museum of Art’s photo, and is tagged in their collection as being from Azemmur (an alternate spelling), 19th century, Accession 1929.843.
Mr. Ross has provided us with a Pomegranate sample, too. This one is also at the MFA, Accession 11.2880, called out as Spanish or Eastern, with no date.
Here’s a different member of this group. In my notes I tag it as Wide Snake Meander. This one is from the musée du quai Branly, in Paris, Accession M61.2.16, and is attributed to 17th-18th century, from Azemmour.
This design crops up not infrequently. Here’s a sample from the MFA, Accession 93.1495, no date, with Spain as provenance. Another piece collected my Mr. Ross – this is the MFA’s photo.
And another, from TextilesAsArt.com, entry 2227, they call it out as being Moroccan from Azemmour, and date it to 1650.
Here’s a sample of Wide Snakes that has a different border. This photo is quoted from the dealer RugRabbit’s website. They ID it as 17th century, Moroccan.
From the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Accession 09.50.1291, now tagged as Moroccan from Azemmour, from the 18th century.
Azemmour has a second style in addition to these pieces. Birds. Paired birds with and without vases or urns, or trees in between them are extremely well represented in museum and private collections. Although paired birds are common in early modelbooks and in stitching examples throughout Europe, the Azemmour birds have a particular look, often done in two colors, with outlines in black and the voided ground in red.
Here is a particularly choice example from the Textile Museum of Canada, Accession T85.0301, dated to the 18th century (image quoted from their photo).
Here’s a whole flock, including MFA 16.298 (Italian or Spanish, no date), Yale University Art Gallery 1941.278 (Azimoor (another alternate spelling), 1700s), Cooper-Hewitt 1970-0-1 (No provenance, late 19th century), Philadelphia Museum of Art’s 1919-686 (Azemmour, 17th century) I’ve easily got two dozen more samples in my logs. They still turn up fairly frequently for sale in textile specialty antiques houses and even on eBay.
And these same birds make appearances on darned net, this image is from a Gros & Delettrez, a dealer in antiquities, who call it out as being from Azemmour, made in the 1800s.
Now. Where did all of these come from?
I’ve read a few accounts that claim Jewish refugees fleeing the Reconquista and Inquisition in Spain settled in and around Azemmour. It is speculated that their influence blended with the local Islamic stitching heritage, to create this local style family; one that is distinct from other Moroccan stitching styles. The Jewish link is cited by The Textile Museum of Canada. The Jewish Virtual Library notes the migration and community. The Jewish link is also mentioned here. The Textile Research Centre writes that production of Azemmour pieces died out in the mid 1900s, although recent revivals have been undertaken.
Finally, to muddy the waters further, here is an artifact that might be seen as a bridge between European/Italian voided work, and the voided work done in Azemmour. This is a strip in the collection of the Cooper-Hewitt Museum Accession 1962-58-17, attributed to 16th century Italy, and the image below is quoted from their photo. Yes, the foreground of the motifs are left quite bare compared to the ornamented Moroccan samples. But look at that design. Does it remind you of both Spider Flower and Pomegranate Meander? It should…
I have no idea if this design has ever been given an official name, but it shows up with regularity in museum collections. It’s part of a larger design cluster that includes several other patterns, but more on that another day. Today is the Flower’s day. Now. Is this a 17th century design? Or is it later…
I call it “Spider Flower” because it’s characterized by a center bloom that has rather arachnid looking petals, often spiky. It can also be recognized by a simple diagonal meander (with up/down symmetry), and some sort of knot or “wing-nut” swelling ornamenting the simple meander. It’s usually accompanied by a smaller secondary border, but there is little consistency among samples on the secondary border. However, the secondary borders can help in assigning Spider Flower to the cluster I mentioned.
In addition to the general voided layout, there is often complex hatching or other ornamentation on the foreground bits. The background varies too, although it’s usually a solid color treatment – either long-armed cross stitch, or the tightly pulled mesh stitch common to strip pieces produced in Italy.
Here’s a pretty typical example:
This sample is a photo from the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, Accession 16.300. The museum calls the ground “tent stitch” but it looks more like a four-sided Italian cross stitch pulled moderately tight (the mesh effect is not very pronounced, but the coverage is there). It’s part of the MFA’s Denman Waldo Ross Collection, which means it was collected some time prior to his death in 1935. The MFA does not date this piece, and attributes it to North Africa or Spain.
Apparently, Mr. Ross liked this design. He found several examples of it. Here’s another, also from the MFA, Accession 98.204. The museum calls it out as “Spanish or Eastern,” but tags it as being Italian embroidery. Again, it’s called tent stitch, but zooming in shows that the ground is the same four-sided boxed cross stitch, pulled tight.
Nope, it’s not part of the same piece, although the similarities are clear. Not only are the secondary border and internal fills different, but the details of the voided area’s shapes are a bit different, too. Yet for all that, it’s clearly recognizable as another Spider Flower.
Mr. Ross’ third sample in the MFA’s collection. This one is Accession 93.208. Same working method, and again – the museum’s own photo. No date on this one either, although it is also called “Spanish or Eastern,” and tagged as Italian embroidery.
This one has a different and more elaborate secondary border. Also the border is asymmetrical north/south. Possibly it came from the end of a towel or cloth.
But not all of the Spider Flowers I have seen have come from the MFA. Here’s one in the holdings of the Yale University Art Gallery, accession 1939.498 – a gift of Mrs. F.M. Whitehouse in 1939. The museum dates it as being 19th century, originating in Morocco, but put a disclaimer on the page saying that the on-line documentation does not necessarily reflect their most current knowledge about the piece.
The picture is rather dark and compressed, and the work itself is heavier and less delicate than the above samples, but it’s clear that we have our Flower, along with its companion border. There are some similarities – the layout, the center flower and meander, the ornamentation inside the voided spaces; and some differences, the largest of which is the truncation of that wing-nut decorated lozenge on the meander’s center. It has lost its center barrel. As far as technique goes, I can’t say anything for certain, although given the density of the ground and its alternating left-right directionality, it might be long-armed cross stitch.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art (MET) in New York also has its own Spider Flower sample. Accession number 09.50.1375 seen below in the museum’s photo, was purchased for the museum through the Rogers Fund in 1909. This artifact is dated 16th century, and is sourced to Italy or Greece:
Companion border? Check – and again a totally different one accompanying the main design. Intensely decorated voided spaces? Check. Spindly flower, meander, and barrel/wing-nut lozenge? Yup. This one to me reads as a likely long-armed cross stitch ground, with the plaited row appearance of that stitch.
And lest you think these things were only done in red – here’s in indigo example.
I have quoted this image from the page of Mr. R. John Howe, private collector and dealer in textiles (it’s about half-way down the very long listing), in his report on an 2010 address given by Mae Festa, a noted textile collector, at the Textile Museum in Washington, DC. Ms. Festa attributes the piece to 17th century Italy. She calls it out ias being done in cross stitches and double running stitch. I think the ground is long-armed cross stitch.
So. What can we say about the group as a whole?
Mostly that it is of an undetermined and broad Mediterranean origin, with museums placing the pattern anywhere from Spain to North Africa, to Greece – with a time stamp ranging from the 1600s to the 1800s. That’s a lot of wiggle room.
Why are the dates and places so imprecise? That “Indiana Jones” era of private collecting, for one. The identification on these bits often depended on the claims of the dealers who sold them to the original art patrons on tour. Very few of these household linen fragments have been revisited in detail since museum acquisitions, and those happened between the 1880s and the 1930s.
With no detailed analysis, I can’t second guess the experts, but comparing these to other Moroccan pieces, and to others in the design cluster, then factoring in the conservative nature of traditional stitching, I’d say that it’s not impossible that such an easy to stitch design persisted for a very long time. 1800s – possibly, but I think these are sufficiently different from clearly dated ethnographically-collected Moroccan pieces of the 1800s to warrant speculation that they were done before that (or possibly elsewhere). Early 1600s might be an optimistic stretch, though.
Why do I think this design is easy to work? You’ll see…
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!