Category Archives: Clarke’s Law Sampler


Where have I been? First swamped with work, then on my annual week at Cape Cod, then swamped with work again. Through it all I’ve kept stitching, although admittedly the vast majority of new stuff below was done on the beach in North Truro:


I finished the inhabited bit in the center, but decided not to stretch that strip left and right. Instead I did one repeat, put a new voided strip below (as yet unfinished), with the goal of stacking narrower simple double running stitch bands left and right of the center motif. The narrow band of red acorns is from my very first pamphlet on blackwork, which I produced in the SCA circa 1975 or so. The pomegranate under it is from TNCM, which was published in the mid-’90s.

I also knit on socks when the evening’s light grew to dim to stitch. My beach report and photos will follow. But as usual, I’m totally under the gun with work obligations here and have to run. Consider this a “drive-by blogging.”

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Finally! Time to finish off the last band on my Clarke’s Law sampler. I really like the way it turned out. Yes, it’s dark. But it’s the narrowest strip on the work so far, and it separates the text bearing area above from what will be a more chaotic bit below. (The jury is still out if I’m going to continue full width strips down here, or do a more random placement of motifs:


But on to the the next a bit, unusual in the original sampler:


It features prominent outlines, plus some speckled, scattered straight stitch fillings and what looks like some patterned fillings too (the base of the pillars). While the source has several voided patterns and ones with lots of internal detail, this is one of the few that could be classified as falling into the “inhabited” style. I’m going to play with this a bit – working the outlines in two strands of red, and then doing some fillings in a single strand of black. Possibly patterned darning, possibly standard blackwork geometric fillings.

“Ah,” but you say. “These patterns were done in monochrome, with the same color used for both outlines and fillings.” I answer by pointing out some sources, including the ultra-famous Jane Bostocke sampler, and several others illustrated in The Victoria & Albert Museum’s Textile Collection: Embroidery in Britain from 1200 to 1750, V&A accession numbers 516-1877, T.32-1936(particularly nice contrast color specking on this one). and an Italian strip (late 16th/early 17th century) appearing in Johnstone’s Three Hundred Years of Embroidery, 1600-1900. You can even see polychrome work in the sampler that’s been the inspiration for most of the bands in this piece, and from which the above snippet was taken.

Plus since I’ve got no historical precedent for the way I am using these patterns (even though each can be sourced), who’s going to stop me? The Stitching Police? I raise my needle in defiance!

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Another descent into deadline hell for me so posts here have been/will be sparse again.

I did manage to squeeze in a strawberry tart. Made entirely from our own home-grown strawberries.


Three years ago I got one plant from a neighbor, and put it along with some lirope in the sunny side garden near our giant grass. I know that strawberries spread by runners, and between the two low, green, spreading plants, I hoping for a nice ground cover in between the roses, heather and blueberry bushes, sort of a green mulch.

The first year the strawberry plant established itself. The second year it conducted a savage land war with the lirope, which is now pushed to the edges of the area. There were a couple of berries, but the squirrels got them long before we did.

This year there are strawberries everywhere. My ground cover hopes have come true. The plants are thick enough to suppress all but the most insistent weeds. In addition we’ve got berries! LOTS of berries! So far we’ve picked about four pints. Not much by commercial standards, but enough for a nice fat tart and several breakfasts. And they’re GOOD. My girl-next-door berries are a far cry from the centerfold-bimbo ones trucked into the local market. True, mine are no where near as huge nor as pretty, but they’re intense and firm with a flavor the watery supermarket berries can’t match.

Slow going too on the Clarke’s Law sampler. I’m still working on the current voided strip. Again, filling in the background with long armed cross stitch takes longer than just working double running outlines. That and time compression are slowing me down:


And for Karen in California, who wanted to see the whole thing so far:


This is roughly 7 months of stitching, for between 30 and 90 minutes per day (my first post in this series was back on 7 December of last year).

Next will be a very wide strip, probably worked two tone using both the red and the black together. Slightly less dark than the narrow strip I’m working now, but denser than the motto bearing areas above it, to help anchor the bottom. I’ve got a couple of candidates but haven’t decided exactly which one to do. After that it’s probably between one and three strips to finish out the cloth, depending on width of the patterns chosen, filling in the area east of “Magic” with an author attribution in a smaller font (probably balanced with a narrow strip to take up any remaining space); and doing some end of line doodles to square out the ragged right in the other text strips. Then finishing and framing. Taa daah!

PS: Thanks to adnohr. Both the Ursa and XStitch Studio programs are on my list to review, once I return from the shadow of deadline doom.

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My sampler continues to grow. Here’s the progress on my latest strip. Filling in the background with long armed cross stitch does take quite a bit more time than does just working the outlines in double running:


In other news, I celebrated yet another anniversary of my 21st birthday over the long weekend. The Resident Male helped me snag a copy of Lotz on eBay as my present (special thanks to Long Time Needlework Pal Kathryn, who pointed me to it).

What’s Lotz, you ask? One of the leading sources on historical pattern books. In 1933 he began the systematic categorization of all extant historical pattern books printed prior to around 1700 or so. His Bibliographie der Modelbucher is a compendium of his research and is considered to be the seminal work in the field. It’s in German, with over 100 plates of page reproductions at the back. I had used some of the Lotz pages when I graphed up patterns for TNCM, but now I have my own copy of the 1963 edition. Although I don’t read German, I’m looking forward to puzzling out the text with the help of OCR software and translation utilities, and learning more.

In the mean time, those of you who wish to see some 16th and 17th century modelbooks, I recommend Pal of Pal Mathilde’s on line linked bibliography as an excellent place to start. To be able to find some of the sources readily available on the ‘net is a wonderful thing, although doing in-person research in libraries does have the collateral benefit of seeing the book two over on the shelf from the one you were seeking. Mathilde has gathered together a selection of reproductions that are readily available (one may require retrieval of a dead link via Internet Archive).

I’m still investigating possible platforms for charting double running stitch. So far none of the commercial needlework specific packages have presented an overwhelming advantage. I’ll detail more of those trials at a later date (you can read reviews of several candidates in my posts from February 2010). I’m now looking at commercial general purpose graphics programs, including Visio, Open Office Draw, GIMP, ArtRage, ArtWeaver, Real-Draw, and others. Criteria for selection include:

  1. Ability to graph VERY LARGE projects legibly on 8.5″ x 11″ paper

  2. Visual breaks between consecutive individual stitches (as opposed to showing a series of many stitches as a solid unbroken line)

  3. Ability to represent the background as dots rather than graph squares (to complement the visual break stitch illustration method)

  4. Standard freeform capture/copy, rotate, mirror and flip tools

  5. Ability to represent both line and solid unit patterns

  6. Ability to vary the width of straight stitch units (to represent various thread thicknesses)

Most needlework packages handle #4 and #5. Several also do #6. The do however fall down on #1 because tend to present patterns at large scale for legibility and in deference to most modern stitchers gauge preference. It would be difficult to use those packages to graph out high stitch count repeats without the patterns overflowing onto multiple pages.

I’ve only found one package that does #2, but to achieve it I run afoul of #1, because the real estate required to represent the stitches as units is prohibitive. #3 is alien to everyone. I appear to have invented that method of presenting counted thread stitching when I doodled up TNCM. It worked, and I’d like to use it again (with edge notation on count), but it appears that the only way I’ll find it is to figure out how to do it again on my own.

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The latest strip:


I’ve been alternating red patterned panels and lines of black lettering. I’ve run out of lettering, but I’m keeping the red-black-red alternation. This one is also from the V&A 14.931 sampler. I’m working the foreground double running stitch using a single thread of DMC 310 black, and the background in long armed cross stitch using two strands.

I’m having way too much fun with these patterns to stop. I’ve been talking about a sequel to TNCM for years, but now I’m engaged in doing it. I’ll be resuming my search for a decent charting program (or general purpose graphics program) specific to the needs of legible presentation for double running stitch. And given my horrible experience with the publisher of The New Carolingian Modelbook, I’m looking into other options, in specific – the feasibility of self-publishing, but I know very little about the various web-based micropublishing alternatives, but I’m open to all concepts. I do know that for this type of book paper copies are still valued by most. I don’t believe that there’s a critical mass of stitchers out there yet who would make use of an ebook stitch reference when hard copy sits so quietly in one’s workbasket without consuming batteries.

I’m also considering different formats. The last book was a 200+ page compendium of patterns, with lots of appendices of various sorts. I don’t think that’s necessary this time out. Other options exist. Shorter booklets or broadside sheets for example lend themselves more easily to web-based publishing both for the issuer and the downloader. Pricing is also problematic. The income stream this would represent is quite small, and the burden of record keeping as a small business for taxes is immense by comparison to any possible profit (discounting entirely the major effort involved in creating the work itself).

So I put these question to the few folk who visit this place and who I presume might be interested in such a thing:

1. Would you be interested in a sequel to TNCM?

2. Would you find ebook format (meaning to be read on a book reader or iPad) useful?

3. Would you be open to receiving a print-your-own PDF rather than bound paper?

4. What length book would you consider worthwhile – a leaflet of 20 pages or fewer? A booklet of 21-50 pages? A small book of 50-100 pages? 100+? (Bearing in mind that content for a 100+ page book would take a while to compile).

5. Any suggestions for publishing options aside from self-created PDF download via wiseNeedle, or commercial services like Lulu, iUniverse, or Etsy? Any cautions on the commercial service route?

6. Would you object to a higher proportion of original and adapted patterns mixed in with exact stitch recreations, so long as all patterns were documented as to origin and modifications (if any)?

7. Anything else you want to see in a book of patterns of this type?

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The latest strip. As you can see, a relatively un-normal quiet week allowed me to finish up the last lettered strip and begin the next. This one is done in standard double running stitch (aka Spanish stitch, Holbein stitch) using one strand of plain old DMC cotton embroidery floss. I was thinking of working the background, but I think I’ll leave it plain. I don’t want to overwhelm the delicate scrollings.


I graphed this from the same photo of a Victoria and Albert Museum sampler that many of the other strips here and in TNCM came from. If the link above doesn’t work, search for item #T.14-1931 (it’s also pictured in Drysdale’s Art of Blackwork Embroidery). It’s listed as Italian, 16th Century in the museum records, but Drysdale lists it as later. Another source lists it as Spanish, which is where the attribution in TNCM came from, but that’s wrong and if I were to re-issue the book, would be corrected. If you squint at the photo you’ll see the sources for my tilting columns, grapes, and the hops flowers and plume flower strips.

But this pattern doesn’t appear only on this one source (right edge, lower four up from the bottom, and just below a red pattern, also see the snippet below). The unknown keeper of the website took some photos of other samplers at the V&A among them is a page of showing shots of two cases of voided work. Thank you Unknown Keeper! If you look at the centermost of those three photos, you’ll see a pattern very much like the one on 14.931, but instead of outline only like that sampler’s (and my) rendition, this one has a filled in background. Here are the three versions of my current pattern side by side:

snippet.jpg snippet-2.jpg snippet-3.jpg

The 14.931’s version is on the left. The unnumbered V&A bit from the Drakt site is in the center, and mine is at the right. I charted mine from 14.931, as best I could. Thankfully I have a better photo from which to work, provided by long time stitchpal Kathryn. For the record, I have not seen this exact base pattern with its distinctive frilled/curvy leaves in my amateur’s wanderings through historical modelbooks, although there are quite a few designs in them that are vaguely similar to it.

Let’s look at the two historical pieces. The V&A calls out 14.931 as possibly being a professional’s work sheet – a sampler in the truest sense of the word, collected by a stitcher of high proficiency as a record, as a reference. The stitcher did just enough of each pattern to set the repeat. The Drakt photo is of a finished band, tricked out with accompanying side flourishes. I’m not sure what the finished band would have adorned. Possibly a pillow or bedcovering, or some table linen. It’s not impossible that it came from clothing, but linens are more likely.

Discounting the worked background, the similarities between the two outweigh the differences. Those are minor – the treatment of the center binding band and stems/bodies of the central flowers, and the treatment of the diagonal arm that links each up-down motif. 14.931 uses a more architectural binding in the center, with more delicate center stems. Its diagonal arm is adorned with an S-shaped squiggle rather than chained solid fill diamonds. But even with the differences between the two historical renditions, it’s clear to me that the two stitchers involved were cribbing from the same source, with minor changes creeping in much like the modern game of telephone, in which a comment whispered to one end of a line and then passed up along the chain often turns out different than the original message. I happen to prefer 14.931’s lines and proportions, so that’s the pattern version I started with.

My amendations are mostly in the treatment of the two terminal flowers in the pattern’s center, a minor elaboration of the binding bars in the center, and the filling in the diagonal arms that connect each central motif. I didn’t like the sponge like “down flower” at the center of 14.931, and I had trouble seeing exactly what was going on with the “up flower.” Plus I didn’t like the smashed tulip look of the comparable center bloom in the Drakt photo. I tried several variations on the S-squiggle in the diagonal arm, but didn’t like any of them. I ended up with th ladder shape in order to make the airy and open terminal acanthus-like leaves look lighter by comparison. And then I added the second narrow binding bar to correct proportions in the motif’s center. I could have raised the original bar two stitches, but I liked the way that it lined up with the separation between the leaves, so instead of moving it I increased its depth and intensified 14.931’s horizontal lines.

I consider my own changes very much in the spirit of the original, and well within the range of variation presented by the two historical samples. I’ve preserved the look and feel of the pattern without debasing the delicacy or detail of the original, and left it a totally identifiable scion of its parents while tweaking it just a bit to my own taste. Your mileage may vary.

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Thanks to a relatively quiet week with only two late nights and one day of weekend work, I managed to make significant progress on my sampler.


I finally finished the band of tilting columns and started on the final line of lettering.


After the lettering I have room for several more patterned strips, the exact number depending on how wide each one is. I’d like to include a row of strawberries, but I haven’t found a historical pattern for them that I really like, so I’ll probably doodle up one myself. I’m also considering several inhabited bands, with dragons, lions or mythological creatures, not unlike the mermaid strip I included in TNCM.


Another possibility would be a series of two-tone patterns, using both black and red in the same strip; or another long armed cross stitch band of a pattern similar in style to the one at the top, but worked voided. That would be very heavy though, and if done at all, should probably be relatively narrow. Maybe I’ll save that for the last one, to give weight to the bottom of the composition.

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The latest strip. Unusual because of the columns:


Angelique asks when this type of needlework was popular. I respond that double running stitch came into vogue in the early 1500s, and continued to be worn for the next 130 years or so, although the actual designs worked in the stitch changed over that period. The strips I’m doing now are late, mostly adapted from a photo of a sampler, and that sampler is dated to the late 1500s, early 1600s. Which would put it at Shakespeare’s time and just after.

So. Does my favorite style of needlework appear in Shakespeare? Possibly. People have looked to his texts and found all manner of things that might or might not be there, but I have a feeling that double-sided counted work of this type did make an important cameo.

My case? Othello.

As those of you who know the play remember, Othello is swayed to believe in his wife’s supposed infidelity by scheming Iago, who points to a particular handkerchief as proof. Othello had given the piece to Desdemona. It was filched by her lady in waiting (Iago’s wife) and planted as manufactured evidence that Desdemona was having an affair with Cassio, Othello’s trusted favorite whom Iago envies and despises. The play’s central tragedy results.

The handkerchief is mentioned in a couple of places. It’s in Act 3, Scene 3:


Nay, but be wise: yet we see nothing done;
She may be honest yet. Tell me but this,
Have you not sometimes seen a handkerchief
Spotted with strawberries in your wife’s hand?


I gave her such a one; ’twas my first gift.


I know not that; but such a handkerchief –
I am sure it was your wife’s–did I to-day
See Cassio wipe his beard with.

And is described further in Act 3, Scene 4:


That is a fault.
That handkerchief
Did an Egyptian to my mother give;
She was a charmer, and could almost read
The thoughts of people: she told her, while
she kept it,
‘Twould make her amiable and subdue my father
Entirely to her love, but if she lost it
Or made gift of it, my father’s eye
Should hold her loathed and his spirits should hunt
After new fancies: she, dying, gave it me;
And bid me, when my fate would have me wive,
To give it her. I did so: and take heed on’t;
Make it a darling like your precious eye;
To lose’t or give’t away were such perdition
As nothing else could match.


Is’t possible?


‘Tis true: there’s magic in the web of it:
A sibyl, that had number’d in the world
The sun to course two hundred compasses,
In her prophetic fury sew’d the work;
The worms were hallow’d that did breed the silk;
And it was dyed in mummy which the skilful
Conserved of maidens’ hearts.

Later in the same Act: Cassio comes upon the handkerchief and gives it to his doxy Bianca:


Pardon me, Bianca:
I have this while with leaden thoughts been press’d:
But I shall, in a more continuate time,
Strike off this score of absence. Sweet Bianca,

Giving her DESDEMONA’s handkerchief
Take me this work out.


O Cassio, whence came this?
This is some token from a newer friend:
To the felt absence now I feel a cause:
Is’t come to this? Well, well.


Go to, woman!
Throw your vile guesses in the devil’s teeth,
From whence you have them. You are jealous now
That this is from some mistress, some remembrance:
No, in good troth, Bianca.


Why, whose is it?


I know not, sweet: I found it in my chamber.
I like the work well: ere it be demanded–
As like enough it will–I’d have it copied:
Take it, and do’t; and leave me for this time.

So allowing me the license used by many Shakespeare pretenders, what we’ve got here is a handkerchief – essentially a two-sided piece work, embroidered with strawberries. There’s an allusion to the embroidery being a deep crimson silk (“the dyed with mummyconserved of maidens’ hearts”), although Lord alone knows whether or not mummy was actually used as a dyestuff, and if it was, what color it might have produced or abetted. We’ve got a link between the work and a mysterious Egyptian/Moorish origin. It’s worth noting that the name for double running stitch at the time of the plays debut was “Spanish Stitch,” and it was wildly fashionable and popular. Plus it’s clear that whatever type of embroidery it was, it was easily copied.

Taken together – reversible, red (along with black, one of the most fashionable colors for Spanish Stitch), stitched in silk, easily copied, link with Moorish origins – that’s my style!

If the local amateur troop ever decides to stage Othello, I think I’ll volunteer to stitch the handkerchief. And I plan on doing a strawberry panel on the current sampler, for good measure.


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Suzie asks to see the back of my Clarke’s Law sampler. Here it is in the dawn light:


I’ve not been very assiduous about making it 100% two sided, but double running stitch does lend itself to highest efficiency if one follows that logic. I’m also using knots, for which I am wildly unapologetic. Also, I’m not one of the back-is-perfection nazis. Neat, yes. Long jumps and stringy bits can be shadow-visible from the front of the work. Plus work should have a logical progression that uses thread efficiently. Rabid about it though – no. Historical works weren’t perfect.

If you notice, both the plume and hops flower patterns contain elements that cannot be worked 100% double sided – isolated lines or units not attached to the main work area. For example, in the hops flowers those are the little detached diamonds that inhabit the central motif. If I were to work this pattern double sided I’d modify it slightly, adding a vertical connecting each of those diamonds to the lozenge that surrounds it. That way front and back could be completely alike. But since the back on this won’t be visible once it’s mounted, I’m not making an extreme effort. Still, you can see that with the exception of the voided backgrounds, I’m pretty close:


Plus as you can see from the back of the piece at the top, I’m on the letters that follow the hops band. What to do next? I haven’t decided yet.

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Hobbled as I am by lack of time (work has invaded every corner of my life), I haven’t had much time to do much stitching. Ten days since the last progress point and I’ve only managed to finish out a postage stamp sized area on the last strip and to begin the next row of letters:


For WindyRidge who asked for a close-up, here’s the hops flower panel:


After a couple of cursory searches for these embroidery styles on line, I’m beginning to get the feeling that not too many ‘net-enabled stitchers are playing with them. There are folks doing double running stitch and voided embroidery to be sure, but not from patterns of this complexity or vintage. If there are any of you out there I’d love to hear from you; especially if you’re composing new works incorporating patterns from historical sources, as opposed to working up samplers designed by others. While working up pre-designed samplers is a pursuit of high order, it doesn’t face the same sort of problems as original collation/composition. Those are the problems I’m most interested in right now.

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