Category Archives: Inspiration

THE STITCHES SPEAK – Part 6

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.

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THE STITCHES SPEAK – Part 5

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.

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THE STITCHES SPEAK – Part 4

And even more.  Continuing on with the visuals from my 2014 talk on historical counted thread embroidery.

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THE STITCHES SPEAK – Part 3

More from the 2014 Schola talk on historical counted thread embroidery.

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THE STITCHES SPEAK – Part 2

Continuing from yesterday’s post, here are the next ten images from my Schola talk on historical counted thread embroidery, originally given in 2014.

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CORNERED

Continuing on with boring embroidery posts.

A good many people will recognize this pattern.

honey-1

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:

honey-2

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:

honey-8

Gorgeous.

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):

honey-7

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?

Not really.

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. 🙂

WHEN IS MORE OF THE SAME NOT MORE OF THE SAME?

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:

  1. 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
  2. One reprinted in 1886 as Kreuzstich- Muster: 36 Tafeln des Ausgabe, 1604, that calls out Siebmacher as its author.
  3. 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
sib-1 sib-2

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
sib-3 sib-4
sib-7 sib-8
sib-9
sib-10The 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:

sib 11

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.

1604 1597
 sib-11 sib-12

Similar, yet not the same.

Here is a set that’s confounding.  First the hippogriff and undine from 1604:

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Compare the item above to these two designs – a winged triton and an undine, each from the 1597 work:

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Lions rampant?

1604 1597
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Even the geometrics are close but not duplicates

1604 1597
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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.

ALTERNATIVE ALPHABET RESOURCES FOR INCLUSIVE STITCHERY

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.

cross stitch sign language alphabet by lpanne

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)

You can read more about Sam’s scarves here.

If you want to create your own binary string, tons of text-encoders abound.  I used this one to translate

STRING-OR-NOTHING

into

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…

 

BLACKWORK INSPIRATION

A couple of people have written to me saying that they’d like to do an original inhabited blackwork piece, but don’t want to do the traditional Elizabethan scrolling flowers, or yet another chessboard.  They are hesitant to draft up their own main design, and are unsure where to start.  They have asked for some leads on places where they can find drawings particularly suitable for or adaptable to use with counted fills. 

I present some suggestions.  Mind you – none of these are endorsements or product placements, and are intended as a first step for gathering inspiration.

1.  Coloring Books. They come in all flavors from very simple line drawings aimed at kiddies, to complex pieces targeted at over-stressed adults.  What you want are ones with large enough spaces for the patterns to play.  A mix of large and small areas to fill is ideal because it will allow use of fills of various complexities and densities. Given the vast diversity of what’s available now, a coloring book project can be anything: a kid’s cartoon character, a historical vignette, a Alhambra-style geometric, a complex mandala, something relevant to your faith, a detailed bit of nature drawing, or a cheeky paisley.  Dover has a particularly lush collection of coloring books, many of which contain designs that would appeal to an adult.

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2. Stained Glass Patterns. These are especially easy to use for blackwork because of the limits that handling tiny bits of glass impose.  The drawings tend to have bold outlines and large, flat fill areas. 

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3.  Maps. Proud of your country, home state, county or city?  All of those nifty borders outline areas just waiting to be stitched.  Collections of clip art for classrooms and teachers contain some of the simplest, most clearly defined examples.

maps

4.  Wallpaper Samples.  The all-over designs of some wallpapers present excellent opportunities for the use of fills.  There are hundreds of collections on-line that can be combed for inspiration.

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5.  Antique Ironwork.  Grills, meshes, fences, and guards are like iron lace.  With lots of “white space” between the bars, just waiting for embellishment.  I took some photos of ironwork at the V&A that show what I’m thinking of.

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6.  Architectural Drawings and Plans.  There are tons of illustrations of houses and other buildings (also lots of photos).  For example, I’m drawn to pix of Craftsman era bungalows.

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7. Patchwork Quilting Patterns.  There are thousands, some appliqué, some pieced (both geometric and crazy-work), all perfect for this type of stitching.  Again, there are thousands of these available on-line both paid and free.

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8.  Stenciling Designs.  These are produced in several scales.  There are large ones intended for use in interior decoration, often as borders or furniture accents.  There are also smaller ones intended for finer airbrush work, like the one I’m using for my Trifles sampler.  In any case, a quick Google search turns up plenty.

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9. Mosaic and Tile Patterns.  Like stained glass, these often need little or no resizing because the tesserae (mosaic tiles) are just big enough to use as stitching blocks. Here’s a pile of regular layouts.

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10.  Lace Samples.  Many designs intended for lace can be adapted as blackwork outlines.  For example, the looping patterns intended for traditional Battenberg could be in-filled using counted geometrics, with the outlines themselves either being stitched, or applied over using soutache cord or a narrow tape or braid.  Here’s what I mean.

lace

These are just a few ideas off the top of my head.

DATING DILEMMA

Sorry folks.  This has nothing to do with anyone’s search for companionship.  Be warned, it’s all about embroidery, and this is a post that only a stitching geek will love.

As I fill out the last few pages of The Second Carolingian Modelbook, I’ve decided to take a stab at a design that seems to be everywhere.  Except modelbooks, that is.  I call it “Pelican with Harpies and an Urn.”  It is one of a set of patterns that crops up again and again  in museum holdings worldwide, most often as a fragment.  It’s clear that unlike many other snippets, these all came from different works, often executed in different styles or stitching media. I’ve posted about this before, but my collection of examples continues to grow, and with it, the general confusion level.

The dilemma comes in because (to my knowledge) there is no existing printed pattern to establish a point of temporal or geographic origin.  But there are lots of examples and they all express the details of the design slightly differently.  Now if there was an authoritative point source that became unavailable, one would expect later iterations to be less detailed, or details to become blurred, through succeeding generations of copyist errors.  We can see that with the oft-studied “boxers” sampler motif in Colonial American samplers – which probably started out as a cherub bearing a flower, but over time became less specific and more stylized, until what remained was a barely discernable chubby humanoid with a club fist. But I can’t arrange the Pelican/Harpy/Urn designs in an ironclad continuum of graduated detail.

Here’s the parade.  The thumbnails are not clickable, please visit the links to see the museums’ higher resolution images.

CH-1.  First is this example from the Cooper-Hewitt’s collection (Accession 1931-66-144).  They date it as being a 17th century work, but do not offer a provenance.  It’s done in silk on linen, with a characteristic tightly drawn background that produces the appearance of mesh, but does not involve withdrawn threads.   Details are rendered in straight stitches, and may include double running or back stitch (it’s hard to tell without seeing the reverse).  The museum acquired it in 1931, as a gift from Sarah Cooper Hewitt.

80257_b11af0797f4b6894_b-cooper-hewitt

CH-2.  The Cooper-Hewitt has another example (Accession 1931-66-142).  This one is specifically called out as being Italian, and is also dated to the 17th century.  It’s a particularly prime piece because it is a full span cut across the end of the towel, cover or cloth it came from. We see the orientation, the top and bottom borders, and how the slightly different side borders framed the work. The museum acquired it in 1931, also as a gift from Sarah Cooper Hewitt.

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HERM-1.  The Hermitage Museum has two examples.  This one is entitled “Valence Embroidered with a Grotesque Motif (fragment),” but the on line page has no accession number.  The full description calls out the linear stitching as being double running (Holbein), and the background as being drawn thread.  They attribute it to Italy, and the 16th century.  The museum got this piece in 1923, via the Stieglitz School, and ultimately from D. Flandin, an antiquarian dealer in Paris.

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MET-1.  Yet another example in the same style.  This one is from the Metropolitan Museum of Art (Accession 14.134.16a).  The MET cites it as being Italian, and 17th century.  Although this one is at a different museum, and is clearly not a separate piece of either artifact, there’s a connection with the two above. It was acquired in 1914, via the Frederick C. Hewitt Fund.

DP2573-MET

HERM-2.  On to another stitching style.  “Valence Embroidered with a Grotesque Motif” from the Hermitage also has no listed accession number. This piece is lacis (darned filet net).  It’s dated 16th century and placed in Italy.  Although filet work doesn’t allow for the linear details of the red examples above, it’s amazing how much fidelity to the design can be included. Like the other Hermitage piece, it entered their collection via the Stieglitz School Museum in 1923, but came from the collection of J. Kraut, in Frankfurt-am-Main.

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MET-2.  More stitched net, and not another piece of the one above.  This one is also from the MET (Accession 06.582).  It’s cited as being Spanish, from the 17th century.  This piece was acquired in 1906, via the Rogers Fund.

705-MET

 

My Opinions

First of all, I’d agree that the source for these was probably Italian, regardless of where the final objects were collected from.  I’d also agree that very late 16th century, but more probably the early 17th century is reasonable for the whole pattern family based on the style, usages, media, and iconography, plus parallels to other contemporary designs.

On to the motifs themselves.  The version with the most minutely rendered detail is CH-1. Here are close-ups of the birds/urns and harpies from the five, presented in the same order as aboveCH-1-birdCH-1-harpy

CH-1 presents the most detailed urn and pelican of the set. Both are encrusted with small linear features, although the placement of those features is not always symmetrical, nor is it identical from repeat to repeat.  Feathers on the harpy’s body are shown in neat rows, but her wing feathers are very stylized, using right angles rather than diagonals. I’m unsure what she’s holding – a cup or panpipes (perhaps a fancy on my part, to think of that flower as the music of the pipes).  From the patterning, it’s clear that the thing across her middle is her tail, wrapped up from between her legs.

CH-2-birdimage

It’s hard to see clearly, but there are lots of differences between the urns and pelicans in CH-1 and CH-2 (blurry pix above).  It’s clear that both have less detail.  But one of Mother Pelican’s chicks has moved up near her bent head, and another now floats over her back.  The nest detail seen in CH-1 is now symmetrical right and left at the top of the urn, instead of looking like leaves on one side, and scrolls on the other.  The sprouts on either side of the urn’s bulbous body have changed attachment points, and now hang down, instead of growing up as pomegranates.

CH-2’s harpy has retained her hairdo, but her wings are a bit more gracefully rendered, employing 45-degree angles to round off some of the shapes.  Her feathers are more evenly spaced, but her tail is less pronounced, and whatever small markings covered her haunches have been lost in favor of more, smaller feathers.  The thing she’s holding has lost its hatching, and now looks more like a cup than panpipes. She has also inherited another wayward pelican chick.

MET-1-birdMET-1-harpy

MET-1’s urn is in between the other two in terms of detail.  The nest/scroll unit at the top underneath the big pelican has transformed into a chick.  The stitcher chose not to fill in the background in the loop defined by the pelican’s neck.  There is something unidentifiable between the pelican’s legs, and her fathers are somewhat simplified compared to CH-1.  The lower ornament is again descending from the bowl of the urn as leaves, rather than rising from the base.

The harpy too has changed a bit.  In this case, I’d say the sipped/sounded thing has parted company from the hand, and now looks more like panpipes, vaguely supported rather than held.  She’s gotten a bit more balloon-like, and her breast feathers now march row by row.  Her wings however have gotten a bit stunted, and return to a stepwise rendering similar to CH-1, but slightly more clumsy.  The tail is suggested, and the haunches have been returned to stippling rather than feathers.

HERM-1-birdHERM-1-harpy

OK.  It’s clear that detail is going to be lost when you move from ornamented surface stitching to the negative/positive lacy mesh look of the all-white technique.  But even so, a tremendous amount has been preserved.  We see the plumage of Mother Pelican, and even some details on her brood (she’s managed to gather three of them together on top of the urn).  Her nest is symmetrical.  The urn preserves the shapes and proportions of the red stitched pieces, and has grown back the two small pomegranates that grow from the base.

The harpy too preserves a lot of detail, down to the proportions and shapes of its flight feathers, and a bit of the detail inside of the wing.  She’s lost some weight, although her hairdo is less detailed. Breast feathers are present, as is a pretty clearly defined tail.  Stippling on the haunches looks different from the breast plumage, and her feet are now nicely shaped lion paws.

MET-2-birdMET-2-harpy

The final example, MET-2, the Spanish piece, is a bit simplified.  The harpy is less prominent, and the largest space is given over to the urn and pelican, and to the foliate ornament between the repeats.  Mother Pelican’s brood is more suggested than rendered, although her feathers are nicely done.  The urn has the two upward growing pomegranates emerging from the base.

The harpy’s cup/instrument has become less detailed.  It’s unclear what it might be.  Her feathers have given way to geometric ornament, and her tail is suggested in shadow rather than being clearly defined.  Her wings are somewhat like the Hermitage example’s, though.  It’s worth noting that her proportions and body shape are more like CH-1 than the other examples.

One other thing that’s of interest is the presence of the little filled boxes that bead the motif’s edges.  You can see them along the curve of the pelican’s neck, along the harpy’s breast, and lower legs.  They give a lacier appearance to the composition.  I also find little protrusions like this to be extremely valuable as I stitch my motifs because they help me confirm counts and stay true to the design.  Note that they are absent in the other renditions.

 

Now, having our fill of urns and harpies, what can we say about them?

It’s obvious that there is an as-yet unidentified but unifying source for this design.  I posit that there might originally have been a broadside or model sheet that showed the composition.  I guess that it may have been on the count, and that its broad outlines were used to establish the placement of the main design elements.  But I don’t believe that it was followed exactly.  Instead I think each stitcher used it to establish the first iteration of the design, filling in the details and roughly eyeballing their placement, taking inspiration rather than ironclad direction from the model.  Once the first repeat was worked, subsequent repeats and mirrorings were copied from that, with no more call to look at the original.  That’s why the baby birds wander around, while the relatively easy to place urn decoration remains more stable.

Because of the different media and slightly different interpretations of the pattern (especially the pomegranates on the urn, and some differences I didn’t detail in the filler between the main motifs), my guess is that the same design branched into two slightly different but recognizable pattern “traditions,” which in turn spawned child works of their own.  One of those traditions (marked by the upward pomegranates) made the leap from surface work to darned net.

Now.  Which came first?  I can’t say.  On intuition alone I’d go with the fat, balloon-bodied harpy (MET-1) being later than CH-1, and the two white filet pieces belonging to the same “tradition” as CH-1.  That leaves MET-1 and CH-2 as child works of the other branch.

Which came first?  What chronological order can be used for these pieces?  Aside from these idle thoughts, your guess is as good as mine.  If you’ve managed to make it this far, please feel free to differ.  Without detailed analysis or forensic investigations into fiber and dye, we’re all just speculating, anyway.