Voided work is a catch-all term for a family of embroideries where the background is covered by stitching, and voids in that solid stitching make up the motifs (the foreground). Sometimes the foreground is further ornamented by additional stitching, sometimes not. There are many different styles of this work, lots of posited points of origin/provenance, and just as many design or pattern groupings that have come and gone in and out of style over the centuries that voided work has been done. While modern Assisi (simplified motifs done with cross-stitch backgrounds) is the form of voided work most widely known today, it’s not the only type, and there is a lot to explore in the allied family of voided styles.
Here’s one subgroup – Story Panels. This is a family of works that I’ve run across as I’ve researched counted voided styles, that hangs together as a subset based on a number of commonalities.
First, the examples:
l. From the Cooper-Hewitt collection, Band. Italy, 16th–18th century; silk on linen; H x W: 24.1 x 172.1 cm (9 1/2 x 67 3/4 in.); Gift of Richard C. Greenleaf; 1954-167-5. These four panels show elements of the Adam and Eve story, and the workaday life after Eden . It’s done in red silk on linen, with a densely overworked meshy background. I don’t necessarily agree that it’s long armed cross stitch – that has a different look of directionality. This has more of a meshy appearance. Foregrounds are outlined (back stitch according to the listing), and ornamented by knot stitches.
2. From the Art Institute of Chicago, Fragment (from a border), Italy, 1575-1625, silk on linen. 22.8 x 41.4 cm (9 x 16 3/8 in.); Art Institute of Chicago Purchase Fund; 1907.827 Part of the story of Noah. Outlined foreground elements with spot decoration, ground in long armed cross stitch aka LACS (that back and forth almost plaited looking directonality is evident.)
3. Another from the Art Institute of Chicago. Fragment (from a border) Italy, 1575-1625, silk on linen, 19 x 40.6 cm (7 1/2 x 16 in.); Art Institute of Chicago Purchase Fund; 1907.826. Joseph and his brothers. This may or may not be part of the same original (or series of originals) as #2, above. Similar color, and LACS technique, but the heights are different, and the motifs are simpler in this one – less ornamented, less detailed.
4. And also from The Art Institute of Chicago, Fragment (from a border), Italy, 1575-1625, Linen with silk. 276 x 44.2 cm (10 7/8 x 17 3/8 in.), Art Institute of Chicago Purchase Fund; 1907.825. To my eye based on these photos, it looks like this panel (Joseph and Potiphar’s wife?) is done the same way as #4, above.
5. From the Cleveland Art Museum, Embroidered Border: The Baking of Unleavened Bread, Italy 16th-17th century. Silk on linen. 18.1×45.4cm (7 1/8 x 17 7/8 in.) Gift of the Textile Arts Club; 1939.354. From Probably LACS (no prominent holes like the meshy style). Foreground lightly outlined with what looks to be a thinner thread, foreground details in back or double running. No knot stitches. I’ve discussed the group of four panels from which this comes once before.
6. From the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Strip, Italy, 16th century, silk on linen, 9 1/8 x 25 in (23.2 x 63.5cm), Gift of Mrs. Harry Ge Friedman; 48.57. I’m guessing from the inscription that this is part of the Joseph in Egypt narrative, where he has dealings with his half-brother Simon. Again, probably long armed cross stitch, with either double running or back stitch outlines of the voids.
7. Also from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Panel with Noah’s Ark. Italy, late 16th/early 17th century. Silk on linen. 14 1/4 x 39 1/4 in. (36.2 x 99.7 cm) with lace. Robert Lehman Collection, 1975.11784. Another Noah’s Ark. Note that the base drawing of the ark section is very, very close to the green one, although the follow on panel is different.
8. Still more. From the Cooper-Hewitt, Band, Italy, Late 16th, early 17th century, linen, silk; H x W: 150 x 19 cm (59 1/16 x 7 1/2 in.); 1950-29-8. The center panel is probably David avoiding Saul’s spear, but the rest of the iconography is hazy and there’s no top line inscription to help. Very clearly long armed cross stitch, possibly double running on the outlines (there are also a few later repairs done using another color, to reunite the stitched ground with the open foreground but that doesn’t count).
9. From the Cooper Hewitt, Band, Italy. Late 16th, early 17th century. silk embroidery on linen foundation; H x W: 23.5 x 60.6 cm (9 1/4 x 23 7/8 in.); Bequest of Richard Cranch Greenleaf in memory of his mother, Adeline Emma Greenleaf; 1962-52-1. This one doesn’t have lettering at the top, but it’s clearly the story of Isaac. LACS, outlined foreground, some ornamentation of foreground with straight stitches (possibly double running or back stitch).
10. And finally, from the Yale University Art Gallery, Unknown Fragment, Italy, 17th century. Linen ground with red silk, 19.1 x 43.2 cm (7.5 x 17 inches), Gift of Howard L. Goodhart; 1928.151. Very had to tell from the photo but it’s probably LACS, with double running or back stitch for the lines. This bit is probably Jonah and the whale, and is clearly part of a multi-panel piece (or once was).
Now, I am sure there are lots more of these out there, that I haven’t included here. And there are narrative panels done in other stitched styles, but these do seem to hang together, more or less.
First, unlike most (but not all) other voided work examples, they display no symmetry. There are no reflection or bounce points; the designs are not aligned in balance around center urns, trees, or other elements. Each one of these panels stands alone, without a clear repeat inside its sequence.
Second, most (but not all of them) rely on similar framing techniques – a narrative with a very similar looking style of letter representation on top, and the curious mix of birds, dogs, and leaf/branch/flower elements below (which does repeat).
Third, none of these were done on the count. By that I mean that the foreground elements were not carefully copied from a graphed source. They incorporate strange angles and curves, and the ground stitching behind them – which was done on the count – looks to have been “mashed in” around the designs where they present those odd curves and angles.
I posit that these were hand drawn onto the cloth, overstitched using double running or back stitch (or possibly even SINGLE running in some cases); the foreground ornament was done, and then the backgrounds were stitched, in neat lines going back and forth across the cloth. BUT it’s pretty clear that some sort of common cartoon (in the tapestry sense) was used for the two Noah’s Ark panels – #2 and #7. Same ship, same placement of birds, bit players and leaves around it, but with just enough difference of detail and odd angles to look like tracings from the same original, not copies of the same chart.
Fourth, for #1-8 above, there are clear divisions into panels, with strangely familiar fat-fruited, full-leaved vegetation or ruled dividers separating the scenes.
Fifth, all appear to be Old Testament scenes. Given the time and place, it’s kind of strange that no large scale New Testament scenes are included. Now those may exist elsewhere, I don’t claim to have gathered a definitive collection of these fragments, but one would think that there would be a Last Supper, Passion or stray Saint among the lot. The closest we get is the Agnus Dei (lamb with cross standard) in the Jonah panel – #10, and even that is background – not the “featured scene.” It’s also worth noting that even with the popularity of Greek/Roman myth images at the time (just look at emblem books and early pattern books) – we’ve got no Aphrodites, Sieges of Troy, or other mythic representations.
Now, what conclusions can we draw from all this? Sadly very few without further research.
Who made these and why? I am tempted to say there was a small number of professional ateliers producing these in late 16th century Italy, due to the strong similarities of style, and the fact that these examples are relatively few among the large number of other voided work fragments we have today. Given the elaborate nature of the non-repeats and the scale of these sequential multi-panel narratives, I somehow doubt that these were loving-hands-at-home works created for household use.
Many of those other bits are probably domestic works – with designs that are symmetrical, with clear easy to replicate repeats. While it’s certainly possible that these panels were bed or other secular hangings, but I think it is more likely they were made for liturgical/didactic use.
And #9 and #10 – the odd outliers? I think they were clearly influenced by the group as a whole, but given the difference in their visual styles and details, I would not be surprised to find out they were done a bit later – or possibly even by competing contemporary workshops – in emulation of the established style.
Have you found other examples of these stitched comic books (biblical or not)? Share!
Readers have most graciously pointed out additional examples! Thank you – keep them coming
11. Holly found this in The Jewish Museum in New York, Embroidered Panel: The Story of David and Bathsheba. Greece, 19th century. Silk on linen. 10.5 x 29 inches (26.7 x 73.7cm). From the H. Ephriam and Mordecai Benguiat Family Collection, Accession S 202. The date and provenance are different from the rest, but it does appear to have some stylistic commonality with #8, above.
12. Melinda Sherbring alerts us to a holding in the Los Angeles Museum of Art, Embroidered Textile Panel Depicting Scenes from Genesis. Iberian Peninsula (Spain or Portugal), late 16th century. Linen plain weave with silk embroidery. (a): 9 7/8 × 64 1/4 in. (25.08 × 163.2 cm); (b): 35 3/4 × 9 5/8 in. (90.81 × 24.45 cm) Costume Council Fund (M.87.230a-b) . Sadly, there is no shared image available there, but from her detailed descriptions, it’s another version of the Adam and Eve panel (second panel in #1, above), and the Ark panel (#2 and 7 above), done in long armed cross stitch, in red silk. The foreground ornament of both is a bit simplified compared to the other versions posted here.
Melinda and her co-conspirator in textile history high-jinks, Robin Berry, had the opportunity to examine the piece up close. They have given me permission to share their notes on technique:
- Fabric thread count approximately 96 tpi.
- Embroidery floss is filament silk, finer than a single strand of Eterna; possibly Kreinik size 0.
- Motif colors: background color card 19-12 and 19-11 for Genesis, approximately DMC 3687.
- Technique: long armed cross stitch background with backstitch for details and outlines. Looks like the same thread was used for background and for details. Stitches over 3 threads, approximately 18 stitches per inch.
- There are holes along the edges clearly where fabric was nailed or tacked to a support.
Robin additionally points out that voided works with Iberian origins are properly termed “Reserve.”
Melinda agrees with me that the base layout of these pieces were probably traced or drawn rather than established by count. Having three examples of such a work is quite special.
Another in my occasional series of posts only a stitching nerd will love.
This base design I present here is among the patterns that have long fascinated me. It comes from a time of political and religious conflict, and exists in two versions – one with a devotional inscription, and one plain – with the motto removed.
It’s pretty widespread as pattern books go, appearing in several. There is also at least one actual stitched artifact of it in one of its variants
First, to look at the pattern as (and where) it was published.
All three modelbook pages of this first group are quoted from Mistress Kathryn Goodwyn’s most excellent Flowers of the Needle collection of modelbook redactions. It’s pretty obvious that the 1537 Zoppino (Venice) and 1567 Ostaeus (Rome) versions were both printed from the same block – the same pattern errors exist on both impressions.
Now for the third – this one was published in 1546, in a book attributed to Domenico daSera, who worked in Lyons, France.
It’s clearly the same design, but carved anew into a different block. The framing mechanism of the twisted columns and chains remains, as does the frondy onion-shaped center motif and the majority of its details. More or less. Obviously the religious motif is new, as is the inclusion of more prominent crosses. But the design is still recognizable.
Going back and forth in time, here’s that same Zoppino block, from his Convivo delle Belle Donne, from August 1532, courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art (Accession 22.66.6) This is the earliest hard-dated rendition of this design that I know of.
It’s also interesting to note that the same block was collected into Hippolyte Cocheris’ 1872 collection Patrons de Broderie et de lingerie du XVIe Siecle which is itself a reprint of several 16th century works. I suspect that a different block may have been involved, because although the copy is almost perfect there are minute mistakes on the Zoppino original that are not replicated in this iteration.
And on to artifacts.
First, here is a clear rendition of the da Sera devotional version. The picture below is shamelessly lifted from the Harvard Art Museum’s holdings page, of their object accession number 1916.379, cited as Italian, but not dated.
Note that the inscriptions switch direction, and not necessarily in a logical manner. I strongly suspect that the stitching is truly double-sided, and the intent was to produce something that could be read from both sides. Either that or the embroiderer was quite forgetful, and neglected to keep track of the front and back. Once the error was established, he or she just kept going.
As an aside, the edging is from Jean Troveon’s 1533 work, Patrons de diverse manieres. It’s also in his other work, La fleur des patrons de lingerie (dated 1533 at the latest) , which we will see again in a moment.
Headed a bit further afield is this example is a first cousin of the design above. The sample below is from the Boston Museum of Fine Arts. It’s got many of the same design elements, but they’ve been simplified and abstracted. We’ve lost the twisty columns, but kept the chain dividers, and the center foliage/flower has been much simplified. This piece is dated to the 16th century, as Italian. MFA Accession 90.50. It’s one of the pieces labeled with the mystery technique “Punto di Milano” which in this case looks like tightly overstitched Italian four-sided stitch, pulled to achieve a meshy look. Oh, with cross stitch accents.
But did someone take the twisty columns design and adapt it? Nope.
Troveon, in La fleur des patrons de lingerie has this one, with the minor exception of using initials in the shields instead of the anonymous sunbursts.
And what else shall we find in Troveon’s soft-dated work? Our old friend, (which based on a close look at block mistakes, I can’t for certain cite as the Hippolyte source.)
Now. We have a few questions.
- How did the border design that appears only a few pages away from the secular version of this design, in the Troveon book get paired with the devotional main motif from daSera?
- Which plate came first? Troveon’s not-dated-in-stone version (1533 latest), or the Zoppino from 1532? Are they printed from the same block or not?
- Why did the design exist and circulate in the two forms?
The places where the secular version appears (Rome, and Venice) were not break-away hotbeds of Protestantism. I would have thought given the tenor of the times (which included the destruction of vast amounts of religious embroidery) the secular version would have been found in the religiously rebellious areas. When I started looking into this my suspicion was that having two versions of this design was an early example of targeted marketing – selling what would appeal to a local demographic. But I can’t substantiate that theory based on place of publication.
The relative order of publication? Again, I can’t hazard a guess. Unless the Bibliothèque Nationale de France refines its listing (or another hard-dated copy of the work surfaces) we are stuck with the uncertainty.
So your guesses are as good as mine. Yet more topics I offer up to anyone doing gradate research in historical embroidery.
Oh. One final aside. Both the secular version of this design and the border from Troveon are graphed up in my first collection The New Carolingian Modelbook.
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.
Continuing on with boring embroidery posts.
A good many people will recognize this pattern.
I stitched this snippet from a chart I did in TNCM (Plate 64:1). A simplified chart for the same design also exists in Pesel’s Historical Designs for Embroidery, Linen, and Cross Stitch.
The original for my graph is a handkerchief in the Victoria and Albert Museum, Accession T.133-1956. It’s current attribution is circa-1600, England, although that designation has changed over time. It used to be called out as 1580-1600. I’m delighted that museums are revisiting the dates, stitch descriptions, and materials info for their smaller textile holdings. These listings are bound to improve as the methods and technologies (and available funds) to assess them improve. I do not think that Pesel used the same artifact as her base. There are some departures in her graphing from the V&A example, and her marginal notes cite a sampler source, from 1658.
Another reason that this design is so familiar, is that the V&A handkerchief is near iconic, and shows up in several influential stitching history books, including Digby’s Elizabethan Embroidery, and King and Levy’s The Victoria and Albert Museum’s Textile Collection: Embroidery in Britain from 1200 to 1750. But in all of the secondary source representations, it is rarely shown with all four corners. In fact, it used to drive me nuts that I couldn’t see them all. But thanks to the V&A’s site archival image updates, we can enjoy completion. Here is their own photo of the entire artifact:
and a color snippet, quoted from the V&A images, for good measure, since repros in the stitching history books often show the original reds:
But look at the corners!
I’ve had many people ask me about how to create corners for strapwork, to go around the perimeter of linens, or to anchor a dress yoke. Much fretting over exact matches happens. Even the choice of mitering or bending the work around the angle (as opposed to butting the design up without mating the two directions) causes anxiety. In truth all of these methods appear, although the exact mitering thing is the least commonly seen.
This is one way to treat those corners. Four ways, to be exact, because no two of these corners are exact matches. And it doesn’t matter that they are not.
Numbering clockwise from the upper left, we have 1,2, then 3 and 4, respectively. I’ve taken the liberty of rotating (but not flipping) these so that they are easier to visually compare:
Upper corners, #1 and #2:
and lower corners #3 and #4:
There are three rough treatment styles. 1 and 3 are distinct, and #2 and #4 are similar but not the same. #4 has a fat twig interlace to the left of the flower, to fill in space. In #2 there was less space to fill, so that twig is smaller. The area at roughly noon above the flower is different between #2 and #4 as well. On the others, #3’s flower is squished up against the border, with no surround to its left, and all manner of arabesques fill up the extra space below the flower in #1.
It’s always a matter of personal opinion and borderline heresy to use these cues to try to deduce working method, but it’s clear while our anonymous stitcher may have had a visual guide to the strip parts of her or his design, the corners were fudged in, ad hoc. The narrow companion border’s corners – both inner and outer – are improvised, too.
If I were to be so bold as to speculate, I’d pick the lower left edge as the starting point, with the work starting at the indicated line, and progressing around the piece in the direction indicated (note that the V&A says that the monogram is EM, so that we’re actually looking at the reverse):
The stitcher worked to a convenient point to form a corner, keeping it as much in pattern as possible, turned direction, worked across the top edge, turned, and so on, until the starting point was achieved – at which point the “terminal fudge” was needed to finish the work. It’s also vaguely possible that the finished size of the piece was determined in an attempt to make the the repeats (mostly) work out, rather than the square being laid out first, and the repeats being fitted into it. At least that’s the way I – an improvisational and slightly lazy stitcher – would do it.
So. If you are making a historically inspired piece, do you need to meticulously draft out exact corners first, then follow your chart with fanatical purpose?
Just go for it. Much as they did roughly 460 years ago.
PS: Eye training: Bonus applause to the person who spots my departure from the original in the companion border. 🙂
Another post that only a stitching history nerd will love.
The last post explored some differences between modelbooks that looked like they featured the same patterns, but in fact were not printed from the same plate. This one looks at one of the most widely reprinted and well known modelbook authors – Johann Siebmacher, and three of his works, all available in on-line editions. All of the excerpts below are from these three sources:
- Schön Neues Modelbuch von allerley lustigen Mödeln naczunehen, zuwürcken unn zusticken, gemacht im Jar Ch. 1597, Nurmberg, 1597, – the source work for Mistress Kathryn Goodwyn’s Needlework Patterns from Renaissance Germany
- One reprinted in 1886 as Kreuzstich- Muster: 36 Tafeln des Ausgabe, 1604, that calls out Siebmacher as its author.
- One indexed simply as Newes Modelbuch with him as author, possibly 1611, but unclear from the source
Many of the designs in these books seem to repeat edition to edition. Some are unique to only one. Before we begin, it’s worth remembering that these books are survivals. Long use and reuse over decades have resulted in page loss. None of the editions are complete, as in “all intact in one original binding,” and some may have been re-composed at a later date from other partial works. But we do what we can with what we have, and Siebmacher’s editions have title pages in them, and distinctive numbering and framing conventions that can lead to a reasonable conclusion that they were from the same printing workshop.
All of the books show graphed designs suited for reproduction using several techniques, including various styles of voided work on the count, lacis (darned knotted net), and buratto (darned woven mesh). Twp of them also include patterns that would be suitable for other forms of lace. Over time these patterns went on to be executed in weaving, cross stitch, filet crochet, and knitting, too. The descendants of these designs ended up in multiple folk traditions and samplers on both sides of the Atlantic.
In addition to the longevity of their contents, Sibmachers books are among the earliest that seem to indicate execution of the design using more than one color or texture, a feature not common in the black-and-white printed early modelbooks. Here are examples the first two books. But I don’t think that these pages were originally printed two-tone. I think they were hand-colored to add the darker squares, either at the time of manufacture or later.
|1597||The possibly 1611 edition|
Obviously, the two samples above were printed from the same block. But the pattern of the darker squares is different, and if you look closely, the some of the solid squares looked colored in, as opposed to having been originally printed that way. I can say the retoucher who did the 1597 was a bit neater. I don’t think these were colored by the book buyer, because every single edition of Siebmacher’s works that I’ve seen have included multi-tone pages like this.
Here are other single- and multi-tone blocks that repeat between these two editions:
|1597||The possibly 1611 edition|
The brown ink on the G near the talon matches the color of the hand-drawn designs at the back of the book – post-publication additions.
The 1604 edition has similar pages that sport two-tone presentation:
But these books are not the same.
That 1604 edition… It’s curious that there are no blocks that are in the other two Siebmacher works that are also in the 1604 edition, yet all three books are clearly signed by him. And the majority of the block labels that show stitch counts for the repeat, or pattern height in units – they are curiously different between the 1604 and the others, too. But still, there evidence of style affinity across the works. Zeroing in on some specific pattern features:
A very familiar stag, that shows up on some of the earliest samplers, with descendants on American Colonial samplers, all the way up to pieces done in the 1800s.
Similar, yet not the same.
Here is a set that’s confounding. First the hippogriff and undine from 1604:
Compare the item above to these two designs – a winged triton and an undine, each from the 1597 work:
Even the geometrics are close but not duplicates
All this aside, even the seemingly close 1597 and possibly-1611 versions have significant differences between them, although they do have exact page duplicates between them. Not so with 1604 – it’s unique when closely compared to the other two, even though all three have the same author attribution, and very similar styles. This is VERY odd considering the vast amount of physical labor that had to go into producing these blocks.
So. What’s going on with the 1604 edition? Why is it so different from the other two? Has anyone read an academic work that examines this issue in more detail, or corroborates these findings with other editions that are not published on line?
So many patterns, so many questions, so little time to do in depth research.
Lately I’ve seen a couple of resources for embroiderers who wish to make samplers or other stitchings to honor friends or family who are differently-abled. I post them here for general reference.
First is this alphabet from type designer Kosuke Takahashi. It takes a linear construction alphabet, and overlays Braille dots on it, to form a construction that can be read by those familiar with both type forms.
A full description, and downloadable files for the font can be found here. Note that it is free for personal use. If you want to compose an item or design for sale, you would need to contact the designer to license the font.
Second is a linear stitch interpretation of the sign language alphabet.
The source is Deviant Art board poster and cross stitch designer lpanne, and is under her copyright. Again, if you create anything from this for sale, please take the time to contact the artist and ask for permission.
Although this last item presents text in a non-standard way, for most of us it makes it less rather than more comprehensible. But it’s a nifty idea for the nerdy-minded among us. Artst Sam Meech knits up scarves using ASCII coding, represented by two colors (one for 1 and the other for 0). He’s able to include entire quotations and text passages in his Binary Scarves. He sells them at his site below.
(photo shamelessly lifted from Sam’s site)
If you want to create your own binary string, tons of text-encoders abound. I used this one to translate
01010011 01110100 01110010 01101001 01101110 01100111 00101101 01101111 01110010 00101101 01001110 01101111 01110100 01101000 01101001 01101110 01100111 00001101 00001010
If this is new to you – each eight digit “word” is in fact a letter. “N” for example is 01101110. The binary scarves work like early paper punch tape, stacking each octet one above another. So the word “STRING” would come out like this:
01010011 = S
01110100 = T
01110010 = R
01101001 = I
01101110 = N
01100111 = G
There was a time in my distant past that I used paper tape, and could recognize and read the octet patterns by sight. But that was long ago, in a technology forgotten by time…