Category Archives: Project – Embroidery

THE EPIC FANDOM BLACKWORK SAMPLER STITCH-ALONG INVADES!

Well, having been encouraged and enabled by The Enablers group on Facebook, I’ve finally released the secret project I’ve been working on, and can now post my progress to date.

The Epic Fandom Blackwork Sampler is a very large piece, intended to be stitched by and/or for Epic Fans. It includes strips close to the hearts of many niche interest groups, and will please those who love giant robots, dinosaurs, Dr. Who, Star Trek, Star Wars, retrofuturism, classic bug-eyed monster invasion flicks, snakes, and much more. These theme bands alternate (more or less) with bands that are more traditional in composition, although everything in this project is original.

I have NOT made this a mystery stitch-along because it’s a bit more complex than most, and folk should know what they’re getting into before they commit time and resources. I’ve established a page here on String just for this stitch-along (SAL). Project components will be posted to The Enablers, and will be echoed here on time delay, at intervals over the coming year. Four weeks will be allotted for the larger, more complex strips, and two weeks for the narrower/less complex ones. I am also posting intro material on estimating fabric sizes and thread requirements, so folks can prepare. The first half of that information is on the SAL page, too as of today. More will join it tomorrow. The first pattern band (Giant Robots and Kaiju) will debut on 3 August on The Enablers, and on 18 august will appear on my SAL page, here on String-or-Nothing. The entire project will continue well into 2022.

Not only is this NOT a mystery stitch-along, I want to foster creativity, and am SO looking forward to what mischief can be accomplished based on this offering.

  • There are panels that are designed to accommodate voiding – filling in the background behind the motifs, although those panels can stand alone and read well without it. The optional voiding can be done after the foreground stitching is complete, so no decisions to commit to it need be made when the stitcher starts a band with the voiding option. More info on voiding and the many ways to do it will be provided before those strips break.
  • There’s no requirement to do the entire thing in a single color, even though monochrome is far more common in traditional blackwork than polychrome. Color choice and placement are entirely up to the individual stitcher. Some options include but are not limited to:
    • Each strip in its own color
    • Alternating colors between strips
    • Using variegated (with back stitch) for one or more strips
    • Picking out design features for color highlights (like I did below).
    • Working one repeat of a multi-repeat in a contrasting color, so it stands out.
  • There’s also a strip intended for customization, to allow signing, dedication, dates, a motto, or inclusion of optional motifs. A design worksheet with alphabets and measured areas will be provided when we get to that one.
  • If side borders are desired, go for it, but I am not furnishing those (top and bottom borders would be more difficult to add because my composition isn’t a clean rectangle).
  • And last of all, if someone wants to skip a particular panel, or wait until their favorite arrives and work only that one – that’s ok, too. But I won’t be releasing anything ahead of schedule or to special request. If you want a future band, you’ll have to wait breathlessly along with everyone else.

Here’s my own rendition of the thing, to date. This is just the first nine out of the total nineteen strips and some of those are partial. I went for polychrome because I rarely get a chance to do that. I’m using six colors, although you are seeing only five right now. There are light and dark shades of red, green, blue, and yellow. The light yellow will be used in the future for voiding and detail, but I haven’t stitched those parts in yet. You can also see partial voiding in the Pirates strip (#3). I will go back and finish that for the entire band, and eventually fill in the dice on the gaming band and add their pips, but I wanted to lay down as much of the rest of the piece as quickly as possible because I got a late start on it.

Depending on the reception of this piece, there may be follow-ons. So if your favorite fandom isn’t included, there’s always hope.

Oh, and if you are worried that you’ll make mistakes because it looks complicated – don’t worry. I have left mine in, including a quite massive one on the pirate strip. I bet that unless you hunt for it, you’d never notice.

Joining in? Please do. I so adore leading folk astray. 🙂

EVERYTHING’S IN MOTION, NOTHING IS FINISHED

Where have I been? What have I been up to?

Long time readers here know when posts go few and far between, I’m very busy. But what’s up?

Several things, in fact.

The basement rehab project continues, after a month delay to ensure all asbestos was properly removed. The team is now up to rebuilding the walls, and roughing in the fixtures for the half bath:

At left is what will be our pantry/storage alcove. Eventually the freezer now in the furnace room will go here, along with freestanding shelving. In the center is what will become a tiny but fully functional half-bath. And at right is the view down the length of what was the basement bonus room and my office and needlework library, but will become our TV room/exercise area. That heavy brick bit is the foundation for the two fireplaces above. It was awkwardly paneled in before, and the alcove next to it was one of those oh-so-common tacky 1960s-era home bars. I had repurposed the bar shelving as my library. Sadly the partially and strangely painted brick will be much easier to repaint than it would be to strip, so we’ll probably be doing that, but we won’t be enclosing it.

I find myself knitting less and stitching more lately, but that doesn’t mean I’ve given up knitting entirely. I started a new pair of “briefcase socks” even though I am no longer going to work or carrying a briefcase. But they are handy to have to work on between other projects, and for relaxing on the beach when it’s too windy to haul out the stitching:

Standard toe-up construction but a bit less fine than my usual socks. This pair is only 80 stitches around on US 00s. I’m using a standard wool/nylon sock yarn using a set of 5 DPNs. The toe is the maligned figure-8 toe (fiddly but I prefer it) followed by a dead plain stockinette foot. I find a low-texture foot more comfortable in the shoe than one with patterning, so I don’t begin the fancy part until after the short-rowed heel is finished. Toe up works out fine for me because if I did that fancy ankle part first I’d never slog through the ultra-boring foot. All of my free sock patterns use this style of construction and are very easy to adapt to two-circs, but feel free to swap in any other toe you favor.

I’ve been working on T2CM – combing through and readying it for final pub. No ETA yet, but I’ve done a ton on it, removing both written and drafted typos, correcting bits to coincide with research developments, and the like.

And in stitching… Well… RUN FOR THE HILLS! IT’S COMING!!

It’s driving me nuts that I can’t do more than tease. But soon…

Back story: I fell in with a crowd of Enablers who egged me on to design a massive band sampler for a free communal stitch-along. It’s not a historical piece. not by a long shot. Instead it’s a celebration of fandoms and nerdy/geeky culture in general – done in an inclusive spirit, to unite many communities in our common joy. The project will premiere in the sponsoring Facebook group, and be echoed here on two-week delay. We’ll be posting advance info on suggested supplies by the end of June/beginning of July, and the component strips will be released periodically starting in early/mid August. And who knows. I couldn’t cover EVERY fandom in one project. If folk find fun in this project there may be crowd calls for inspiration to do follow-ons, so even if I’ve not included your particular darling in the first set, future stand-alone strips or even whole projects may happen, too.

BAGGED UP AND READY TO GO!

A finish! The mini-bag kit I savaged and repurposed to feature my own choice of stitching is now complete, and can be sent to the recipient.

To recap, in order to have better access for my hoop I unpicked the side seams of the evenweave decorative layer, and of the heavy cotton twill lining. The evenweave had no seam at the bottom. The twill lining was left with the bottom unseamed. Earlier in the process the bag could be splayed out flat, with only the bit of seaming at the top surviving – where the lining and evenweave were sewn together with the red handles. Here you see it draped out and in the hoop.

When I finished both sides, I sewed it back together by hand – my sewing room and machine being off limits due to the big basement rehab project. First I sewed the lining using back stitch. Then I attempted a fancy decorative openwork seam in black to reunite the two sides of the evenweave.

It didn’t work.

It looked rather Frankenstein-like. Of the stuff of nightmares. So I covered up the buttonhole stitch based seam with three rows of reverse chain, done with a whole 6-ply strand of my linen floss. The first row of reverse chain went down the openwork bit at the center of my former decorative seam, and the other two courses went left and right of that, hiding the bits that encroached into the body of the bag. Which is why there’s now a thick black stripe along both sides of the thing. Not an optimal solution but the best I could do right now.

And on to the next project.

This one I have to admit I am posting as a tease. I used time over the past pandemic year to design a free stitch-along. It’s a rather large and complex stitch-along, with a distinctly nerd-world/fandom theme. It will be released on The Enablers Facebook group, and also here on String, on a two-week delay, starting sometime in August. I will be creating a new page here on String to host it. Beta-test stitchers from that group have been working on their pieces to proof the design and confirm the directions, and their efforts have been much appreciated. The thing will NOT be a mystery stitch-along (folk should know what they’re in for before they commit), but it will be released one panel at a time, with periods between releases pegged to the complexity of the individual panels.

However, until now I haven’t started my own rendition. I won’t spoil the surprise, but as I warned – I will tease here.

Obviously not a historical redaction (for a change), and that’s going to be part of the fun.

PENDING

Some movement here at String Central, but not as much as I would have liked.

First, on the Great Basement Rehab, we are in hiatus. This being an old house, of course they found asbestos. Which we expected. Not friable, immediately dangerous asbestos, but materials that would be of hazard to the crew doing demolition. Most notably, in the adhesive that sticks down the floor tiles in the old sewing/craft room, and in some intact cladding around various pipes. Some of those pipes may be moved, and others will be less bulky to encapsulate if the cladding were absent. So it all goes. Unfortunately due to demand, the earliest the asbestos remediation team can deal with us will be the last week of May, so for the past week or so until then, nothing will be accomplished.

Except cleaning. The demo team was able to do quite a bit of wall removal down there. Some of the walls were old lath and plaster, which make a TON of dust. In spite of taping over the door to the basement with a plastic airlock, a ton got upstairs, all the way in fact to the second floor. It infiltrated through various holes in the floor around the pipe penetrations of the hot water radiator heating system, in between floorboard expansion voids, through the seams between mop boards (baseboards) and floors, and through the required vent to bring extra air to the kitchen (a code mandate for the gas stove/high capacity exhaust vent in the kitchen).

It took four moppings to remove that stuff from the bare wood and tile floors, and many vacuumings to see the original color of the rugs again. I’m still cleaning/washing every other surface and soft item – behind furniture, inside the kitchen drawers and cabinets, linens in the linen closet, behind books. Even the formerly clean socks in my sock drawer will benefit from a no-heat air tumble in the dryer. Right now I am concentrating on high traffic/high touch and food-prep areas. When construction resumes there will be more dust, so there is no point in going nuclear on what’s there now only to do it again in June/July.

To illustrate the dust that accumulated in just two hours, I moved this cork trivet from the place I had put it earlier that morning.

Yes, that’s a collection of little plastic bulls from Sangre de Toro Rioja wine bottles. An everyday plonk enjoyed here as a sentimental favorite, often enough over the years to have accumulated a herd.

On the stitching front, I’m well into the second side of the small tote bag project.

Here it is mounted on my sit-upon hoop. You can see that the bottom of the bag is just a fabric fold – no square box bottom. When I picked out the side seams of the evenweave there was no join at the bottom. However the lining will need a bottom seam. Prior to my surgery, the side seams of the lining only extended halfway down, and its bottom was unsewn – in a futile attempt to make stitching on the evenweave outside easier.

The design is yet another one from T2CM, but this one is original, loosely based on historical aesthetic, but with no point source or specific inspiration that’s been adapted. It’s a slightly eccentric framing interlace (the bits framing the tumbling lilies are just a bit taller than they are wide), I’ve worked it before, also with stairstep voiding, but done monochrome, with a different directional treatment, and without the concentric rings in the inner circles:

Note that last time I also used single ply for the fill and two plies for the interlace, but in the older bit the flowers were also done in one ply.

I’m about a third finished with this side. The rest is just “wash/rinse/repeat.” The next challenge on this piece will be the re-seaming. I will finish the lining on the sewing machine, but I intend on working some kind of decorative seam treatment on the evenweave outside layer. What it will be is as yet undecided.

EXPERIMENTS AND ADAPTATIONS

As an in-between, quick project, I’m working on the small tote bag – the piece on the bag body I salvaged from an old DMC cross stitch kit. I’m using yet another design from T2CM, but I’m playing with it a bit.

First, there is thread choice. Note how the black is thicker than the red, more matte, and a bit rustic-slubby. It doesn’t make factory-precise lines. It’s not cotton floss. It’s two strands of linen from a line of DMC six strand linen embroidery floss, discontinued about 7 or 8 years ago. My local independent crafts store had a small quantity left, and I bought it all out in 2016 or so. I don’t have very much of it, not enough for a large piece, for sure, and being discontinued, there is no more to be had.

Experimenting with it I have found that it needs to be used in much shorter lengths than cotton, needs a relatively thick needle compared to the ones I would use with cotton or silk on the same count ground, and performs best when very heavily waxed. That’s because the linen is surprisingly friable, and abrades heavily from the action of stitching. This is not stuff to be “sewed” – it has to be stabbed up and down. It is also stiffer than cotton or silk with a notable bend radius, and special care in tensioning stitches is needed to keep angles from distorting the weave.

The single-ply red by contrast is thinner, silkier, and easier to stitch. It’s plain old DMC six strand cotton floss, color 815 – the closest match I had to the color of the bag’s “built-in” cotton twill handles. Note though that there is minor thickness variation in the single red strand, but I bet you would not have seen it had I not pointed it out.

On to the design.

This particular zig-zag flower stripe is in my ever-forthcoming The Second Carolingian Modelbook. It’s adapted from the Museum of Fine Arts Boston holding, accession 99.178. It’s one of my favorites because the original artifact has a VERY evident mistake on it. Well, evident to me at least. Can you spot it?

Good eyes if you have! The repeat is not quite symmetrical up and down. Look at the valleys – the V bits below the paired flowers. There are two different treatments for the foliate curls there. A “fat end ” one that curls back towards the zig-zag stem, and a “skinny end” one that curls back towards the center. The first three strips all are in the same orientation, with the “skinny end” curl on top. But that bottom one is upside down in comparison to the other three – in it the “fat end” curl is on top. It drove me nuts when I was trying to work out the pattern. Someday I want to use this ones on the sleeves and bodice of an 16th century Italian camica. I think It would be perfect for that….

Now on to my adaptation of the design for use on this specific piece.

I have moved the zig-zag stripes much closer together than the original because of the size of this very small carry bag. I’ve changed the direction of the striped “collar” around the terminal buds on the lower strip, just for fun. And I’ve introduced the step-fill between my strips. The heaviness of the double strand, rather rustic and slubby linen mates up well with the feel of the original; and the contrast between the step fill (mirrored along the center line for each up-down repeat) done in the smoother, more delicate thread adds interest.

Now. Is this a historically accurate use of the design? If I was to be totally textbook, have to say no, even after discounting its use on a contemporary tote-bag, worked in modern materials.

Yes, the flower zig-zag has a clear source. Yes, designs with voided grounds were worked at the time. Yes, designs with outlines in one color and the ground covered in another are not unknown. And Jack Robinson (the UK’s late and lamented blackwork master artisan) in his book noted the use of varying thread thicknesses on a single project.

However, I have not yet seen an artifact with a stepwise fill as a voided ground (square mesh yes; diagonal mesh, yes; diagonal zig-zags, yes). I have not yet seen a voided artifact with a ground that’s mirrored. And I have not yet seen an artifact with an all-over repeat of this type, worked with a voided background.

Do I care? Not particularly. I have no intention of entering this before any juried panel. It’s a doodle, for the sheer fun of playing around with the design. And it will eventually be a gift for someone special.

AT LONG LAST, LONG GREEN IS DONE

Not quite a record for the interval between commencement and completion, but close – but after years of languishing, my long green sampler is complete, signed and dated.

I used Au Ver a Soie’s Soie Alger silk thread, 40×42 count linen (you can see the slight distortion), and began it on 11 Feb 2012. I employed several stitching techniques including double running stitch, long armed cross stitch, plain old cross stitch, Montenegrin Stitch, and Italian four-sided cross stitch (pulled very tightly to achieve a meshy effect, and worked at two scales) . All of the designs here except the top one will be appearing in my ever forthcoming The Second Carolingian Modelbook. The top panel is from The New Carolingian Modelbook.

Long Green will languish again for a bit before I finish it off for display. Given that there is only about an inch of fabric at the bottom, due to the unfortunate destruction that happened over the years the thing sat waiting for me to resume stitching, I do not have enough fabric to frame it on a stretcher. And I really don’t want to frame it with a mat. With a stitched area of 10.5 x 34 inches (26.7 x 86.4 cm) that would be a very awkward and expensive piece. With the sewing machine out for the duration until our basement remodel is complete, I’m shelving this and moving on.

So. What to do next?

A couple of weeks ago I ran into a small DMC tote bag kit on our town’s freecycle/reuse/give-away exchange. I snatched it up. Although I didn’t want to stitch the rather boring roses intended, the kit with its big-as-logs 32 threads-per-inch evenweave was perfect for other counted work.

The bag itself was 90% assembled, and fully lined. There was an unfinished area at the bottom of the lining to allow access to the inside of the bag, to make working easier. But it was insufficient. I tried, but was unable to either hoop or work in hand as the kit stood. So I separated all of the side seams and laid the whole bag out flat:

I basted guide lines at the longitudinal center of the bag, and a half inch all the way around the edges. The total stitching area is two sides, each about 8.75 x 10 inches (21.6 x 25.4 cm). I am unsure if I will work just one design on this, front and back; or if I will do something different on each side. But the intent is to stitch, then use a decorative seam stitch on the visible parts, and a less fancy treatment on the heavier white twill lining, which won’t be very visible after the whole bag is put back to rights.

This being a rather small project, it doesn’t fit nicely in my sit-upon hoop, so I am working it in my hand held 6 inch (15.24 cm) hoop. Slow going compared to the two-handed approach I prefer, but even so this should be done quickly.

Here’s what I have so far. Two strands of standard DMC 310 black. I wanted the outlines heavy and prominent because I am considering working an open voided ground in a second color behind. At least for this all-over. And yes, it’s yet another T2CM pattern.

And finally it being eating season, both with first-run and leftover bounty, to celebrate the end of the Passover season, I transformed our leftover pot roast into a rather curious family specialty. Meat blintzes. It’s the standard blintz crepe outside, but with a mix of finely chopped leftover cooked pot roast, any remaining potatoes and carrots or onions that cooked with the roast, a handful of cooked rice, and just enough leftover gravy to keep the filling moist inside. I know of no one else who had this way of eking out an extra dinner in this manner. I suspect my grandmother or one of her sisters faced with hungry kids and a quarter pound of meat, made virtue of necessity, and passed their discovery down to me. There’s no real recipe here – it’s just doing the best with whatever leftover meat and sides are available.

So now I have about 3 dozen in the freezer, to be defrosted and pan-sauteed to finish prior to serving. Obviously these are not intended to be accompanied by sour cream. Instead, as a quick to fix/light dinner course they are usually preceded by a big bowl of chicken soup (also pre-made and stowed away against need), and are accompanied by a vegetable side dish.

If you are looking for the recipe for the blintz skins/crepes and a more traditional mixed cheese filling, it’s here. Just to be evil and make you extra hungry, I leave you with what they look like during the final sautee:

INFLECTION POINT

Yes, it’s true. I have reached the Age of Post-Employment.

After decades of proposal management for high tech companies, I’ve packed it in. No more deadlines. No more herding cats. I could go on listing the things I will not miss, but it would quickly turn into a rant. What I will miss are the in-the-trenches comradery; the energy and off the wall ideas of all the mad inventors; seeing technologies evolve in real time; and the thrill of visiting, viewing, or reading about the final projects that came from the bids on which I have worked.

Still, I’m happy to walk away from it, noting that the average span of tenure in proposal pursuit is something under 5 years. Very few people make it a lifelong career as I did. And even fewer can boast that they survived ulcer-free, and never missed a deadline in 41 years.

To celebrate my new freedom, The Resident Male, a specialist in surprise rather than programmed gift-giving, has presented me with a Wonderous Treasure Box: a tabletop jewelry armoire, shown here on the dining room sideboard, but destined for my dresser.

The drawers are fitted out with small compartments, both sides open up to reveal hooks for necklaces and bracelets, and the top hinges up with a mirror on the inside, and another storage bin beneath. I will add some canvas inserts to the side door inside panels, so I have mesh on which to hang hook-style earrings. The wood and build of this piece are magnificent. I adore it, and have showered him with copious thanks.

What will I do with myself besides organizing my slovenly dresser and precariously piled bling-midden? Well, there’s plenty going on here, and I will be in the thick of it.

We are at the cusp of a major basement renovation project, with the goal of updating a smelly, always-damp, slightly moldy cavern of 1960s vintage cheap paneling and suspended ceiling tiles into a comfortable, clean and usable space. This includes the area where my desk sat, the kids’ old TV area (including a ramshackle home bar, repurposed into shelving for my needlework library); the craft/sewing room; a strange “leftover” alcove at the back of the house; and what can be described as a bathroom only in the most generous terms (right now it’s just closet hiding a fitfully inoperative toilet and a population of house spiders).

The goal is to make a great room with a comfortable TV/sitting area at one end, that can also be used as guest space,plus an exercise area at the other end; a true half-bath with a sink and working fixtures; a functional storage/pantry alcove to house our freezer; and a craft/sewing room with actual useful and accessible storage and organization space. My office area and needlework library will go upstairs to one of the spawns’ former bedrooms, now that those are no longer tenanted year-round. Demolition should be beginning on the project by the end of April.

In addition to that, there are all my own projects. I can (gasp) STITCH DURING THE DAYTIME on a weekday! A strange concept for sure, and one I am still getting used to. It still feels wrong, like ducking out of class, or skipping an appointment – but I suspect that feeling will eventually pass.

One problem I have to solve is with Big Green. Remember that worn area I noted a few posts ago? When I unmounted the thing to try to capture the ground above the abrasion, it gave way before I put any stress on it – falling to pieces and making an enormous hole. The hole is beneath the “keeper bar” that holds the fabric in the frame’s roller, and is clearly seen here. I’ve flipped the thing – this is the right side, but it’s on the frame with the rollers on top rather than behind, in an effort to make the largest possible area accessible for stitching.

See that narrow border that’s part of the [grapes, hops, berries] strip? I have just enough room to complete it below, with about an inch left over. Obviously when I go to finish this piece I will need to trim it out with a border strip of fabric, and do it hanging scroll style. But that’s in the future. Right now the problem is that I don’t have enough room in the frame to stitch that narrow bit. Once I am done with the main body of the current panel I will have to take the sampler off the big frame and figure out how best to work on it in my sit-upon hoop frame – how to avoid abrasion and distortion of the established stitching as I relocate the hoop, and how not to stress the already-fragile threads of the weave itself. I may even end up having to work in hand, something I dread doing.

And yes – I brought this on myself, both for letting the piece languish so long and suffer such abuse that it weakened in the first place, and for choosing an overly wide and ambitious border to finish. I should have picked my second choice, one that was about an inch less tall. Live and learn…

Oh. Folk will also be happy to hear that I’m diving back into T2CM – updating some of the blurbs to synch with scholarship that has evolved since I started the project (museums have revisited the dating and provenance of many of their fragments in the past 15 years); and with nothing to stop me, I hope to have it buffed, re-proofed, and ready for publication later this year.

RATS, RATS, RATS

A couple of things to report this week. First a quickie start and finish. This piece was bespoken by Younger Offspring, who has taken up bookbinding. The finished volumes largely feed personal journaling, but are also given as gifts; and some are done on commission. This bookbinding plus other artistic ventures all are done under Younger Offspring’s Rat House Studio banner, So when I saw the rats in the same work as the drawing that inspired the cats and yarn repeat, having the perfect target audience, I had to draft them up. Additional foreboding iconography was added to emphasize the “eyes only” and personalized aspect of journaling in particular.

This piece was worked on DMC/Charles Craft Monaco, a cotton 28 count evenweave in a light tan, using two strands of DMC cotton embroidery floss, #814 – a browner red than I usually use. I haven’t cut the stitching from the greater piece of cloth, and I’ve left the easily withdrawn basting thread in place to aid in centering the piece on the eventual book cover. And since the stitching is in just one quadrant of the cloth, I will be sending it uncut, with the leftover thread in case Younger Offspring wants to do something original on the back, or on the other half of the ground, following the household precept that it’s always fun to encourage and abet creative expression

In truth after using the Monaco, I am not a fan of this ground, and I can see why so many people who have only used this type of fabric are disenchanted with evenweave in general. First, it’s not really even. Look at the rats. They are NOT size symmetrical as they go around the corner. The weave is a tiny bit compressed north/south when compared with east/west. Rats at top and bottom are shorter nose to tail, and heftier vertically than are the ones on the left and right – those are more elongated, and not quite a chinchilla-chubby. I get comparable results from non-purpose-woven mass market faux linens. Why should I pay a premium for off-proportion custom purpose ground? In addition, the cloth is extremely thick especially compared to the high-count linens and blends I am used to. Wrestling it into my round frame (and this is my 8.5 incher – my largest hoop) was a challenge. It was extremely difficult to tension properly and evenly. Maybe it would have fared better hemmed out and laced into a slate frame, or mounted on a scroller, but it was a beast in the hoop.

In any case, I would not recommend Monaco, especially as a first-ground for people transitioning from Aida to evenweave, with one exception. The heaviness and stiffness that I found so annoying would be a boon to those who hold the cloth in hand, and stitch without a frame or hoop.

But I do admit that the thing was an extremely quick piece to stitch. The ground cloth was delivered on Tuesday. I finished this yesterday shortly after dinner, after a final consult with the recipient. I estimate no more than about seven hours of work, parsed out to accompany evening TV viewing over several days (plus subtitled TV does slow me down a bit.)

Here is the original inspiration, and the chart for the Ring of Rats. Yes, I omitted the interlaced tails at the center. While that was striking, it occured to me that the image would be more useful as a frame. Four corners are presented. The individual rats can be repeated to make a wider or taller frame, either as a series of mirrored pairs (head-head or tail-tail) or marching in the same direction until the center of the side, and mirroring only at that point. Plus, I think that with their little curled tails, mine are irresistibly cute (the original being rather threatening.)

THE RAT CHART IS AVAILABLE AS AN EASY TO DOWNLOAD PDF AT THE EMBROIDERY PATTERN PAGE, CLICK HERE OR ACCESS VIA THE EMBROIDERY PATTERNS TAB AT THE TOP OF THIS PAGE.

Once again, credit where credit is due – the original plate was from Ernest Allen Batchelder’s Design in Theory and Practice, New York: Macmillan, 1910, which appears to be a seminal work on graphic design during the period of transition from earlier styles including Art Nouveau and Mission/Arts & Crafts to what would become Art Deco.

Oh, and what am I up to now that my quick fling with Rats is done? Back to Long Green. Obviously another design from my Ever Forthcoming Second Carolingian Modelbook, this one is done entirely in long-armed cross stitch (LACS), but without any accompanying outlines.

It’s challenging to stay on target, while preserving the plaited texture of the row-on-row courses of LACS. To get that texture, lines have to alternate directions, like an old raster printer. But it does move along more quickly that the meshy ground. This design will be the last on this sampler – a nice strong and dark strip to anchor the work’s bottom edge.

And what to do after this? Ask me again in a month or two when this strip is complete. By then some things will have changed here at String Central, and I should have both time, and plenty of ideas of how to occupy it.

AAALLLMOST THERE

The hounds and pelican strip is finished!

I know of two mistakes on it, which I may or may not go back and pick out. I’m also thinking of adding another heart-bud immediately underneath the hounds’s forepaws. It’s not in the original, but that area looks a bit barren to me.

Now to go on to the next strip. Here’s the whole piece laid out, so you can see the (problematic) real estate that remains:

I was originally planning for two more strips, one medium dark, and one quite dark to add balance to the piece as a whole. But there’s this…

Damage! And not just distorted weave that can be gently stroked back into place – actual breakage of multiple warp threads, and too many to compensate. There’s no going around this. I have to end my sampler out about three or four inches short of my intended length.

How did it happen? Many reasons:

  • Very gauzy, fragile linen ground to begin with.
  • Abuse during two shipments back and forth to India. While it was unmounted from the verticals, I left it on the horizontals of my frame, scrolled up so that the unworked portion was on the outside. The resulting bundle was then wrapped in a thick cloth, and put into the shipping crate that held my hobbies. Where it probably abraded somewhat against the surrounding objects.
  • Abuse since returning. I’ve been schlepping the thing around with me to show off at gatherings where embroiderers might be present.
  • Not sufficiently padding the unworked portion. I put a couple layers of scrap muslin in between the stitched portion of the piece as I advance the scroll while working. But I did not pad the unworked portion. That was a mistake, leading to extra tension when I remounted my Long Green for work last month
  • It has been what… nine years since I started this?

The aggregate result was that the area that had been rubbed and abused over time, and that had been fragile to begin with, under tension of my re-mount, began to give way. Note to self – no matter how tempting, avoid gossamer grounds and stick with more beefy linens…

So now instead of two or three strips to finish, I’m looking at one or two, in order to leave at least three inches between the breakage area and the bottom of the stitching. I may also reinforce the bottom bit by actually basting on some muslin to help take the strain of remounting for stitching – an extra precaution that I would remove before mounting for display.

OK. What to finish with. I’m not sure. First I have to measure out my area to figure out the maximum height of what can be stitched there. Then depending on how tall that workable area is, there are several classic designs I’m considering. But a couple of them I have not yet drafted up (T3CM fodder?), so I may take a quick side journey into another simple piece while I’m thinking it over.

Stay tuned!

BUNNY-HOUNDS AND PELICANS

Last week’s columns and plume flowers strip was a quick one. Not the least because it was in plain old cross stitch. I am pleased with the darker-but-not-overwhelming density. And as you can see, I’m on to the next one, featuring the hounds and pelicans, yet another design that will be in the ever-forthcoming T2CM:

I am looking forward to unrolling this piece when this new strip is done, to see how much more real estate I have to cover, and to make plans for how dark or light those strips will need to be. Then I get to go hunting for what to stitch next.

This week’s strip is an interesting one on a couple of fronts. First, in terms of history, it has a specific point of origin – in 16th century Sweden; not Germany or Italy or any of the other countries better known for linear embroidery at that time. It’s in the Swedish History Museum, Inventory number 19600.

The museum citation says that the piece is from a chapel in Uppland, Ă–stervĂĄla; stitched in red silk on white linen. It also includes the matching vertical border which I haven’t graphed yet, plus a sweet row of heart-shaped cartouches bearing heraldry, the frames of which are also on my futures list. I haven’t stumbled across another piece of linear stitching in this style from this region/time, so it’s a bit of a mystery. How prevalent was it? Was this type of work limited to church linen? Did it appear also on clothing? Obviously more research is needed. If you know of any other pieces in this family, please let me know.

Now on to iconography. While this piece has non-secular origins and was part of a chapel’s furnishings, its religious symbolism is not as direct as most church hangings. No martyrs. No pascal lambs, sacred hearts, or other standard symbols. Just pelicans and hounds. Even slightly misshapen, the quadrupeds are identifiable as coursing/sight hounds of some type. They are collared and belted, slim waisted and long legged, with floppy ears and pointy muzzles. Dogs, especially hunting hounds would have been seen as symbols of fidelity, determination, and loyalty. Pelicans are a bit more esoteric. Here they are shown “vulning” – piercing their breasts with their beaks, in order to feed their young with drops of blood. This was a standard bit of common folk legend at the time – along with the belief that worms spontaneously generated from the soil, and hedgehogs carried berries home to snack on later, impaled on their quills. Obviously the imagery was associated with self-sacrifice, devotion, and parental care.

Therefore, we have a cloth covered with symbols of devotion, loyalty, and self-sacrifice – something that would have special meaning in the religious setting. The background for this may be Sweden’s departure from the Catholic church in the late 1520s. Perhaps this rather humble, non-demonstrative bit of stitching (no gold, no gems, no saints) with its generic paean to virtues fits into the schism between Catholicism and Sweden’s developing Lutheran-based faith.

I admit I knew the pelican story courtesy of the Society for Creative Anachronism (SCA). It’s no secret that I’ve been involved with it deeply in the past, and continue to have many friends active in the organization today. The highest SCA award for service is the Pelican, and its badge is a pelican vulning. This highly respected honor recognizes those vital individuals whose labor, largely voluntary, is the fuel that keeps the organization running. If you ever attend an event and see someone with a brooch or pendant with a pelican, know that the person you have met is Very Important, and widely respected by their peers. My sampler will have pelicans on it, but I am not a member of that order, nor do I intend to display it in an SCA context. I could wear a badge with a laurel wreath, but that’s another story for another time.

Finally, I announce that we have embarked onto another Great Home Improvement Journey. This time it’s the basement. I will post before/during/after pix, but right now I am still packing up and stowing my needlework library, office area, and craft room. The chaos is palpable. Here are a few of my stitching and knitting books. I’ve already had reason to refer to them, but have had to sit on my hands and just contemplate my wall of boxes. Work on the basement proper should begin by April. Until then, it’s lift, sort, box, and stack for me.