I admit it. I was horribly spoiled this holiday past.
My family has fitted me out with all sorts of stitching goodies for the new year. There were silk threads and linen grounds from my mom and the Elder Offspring – enough to keep me going for quite a while. In addition, The Resident Male drew inspiration from a recent Facebook post (plus the general state of the stitching supply midden next to my favorite chair), and gave me a mercer’s chest from Sajou in which to store my embroidery supplies and tools. A princely gift. And yes. It’s already full.
Younger Offspring hand crafted me a Special Object. That book next to the chest – assembled and bound, with an embroidered and beaded cover all of their own devising, it’s full of graph paper pages – perfect for stitch design and doodling. I think my family knows me very, very well.
During the supply sort and consolidation to populate my new tiny chest, I stumbled across the thread I had been using for my Long Green Sampler. That’s a project from about six years ago. I was working on it just before we departed for our expat stay in India. I brought it with me but had no well lit comfortable place in which to work on it, so it languished. I poked at it a couple of times in the years since, but I hadn’t set it up for reactivation. I remounted it and set in again yesterday evening.
No, that’s not a real cat. I would love to have one, but I am very allergic to them. It’s a stuffed toy, liberated from the Spawns’ menagerie. It usually does duty as a very conveniently sized elbow rest, but here he’s blocking sun glare. He can be both obliging and versatile, although (sadly) not very affectionate.
To reprise, Long Green is a long strip sampler, done in Au Ver a Soie’s Soie d’Alger, in color #1846 on 40 count linen (20 stitches per inch). I am picking my strip patterns on the fly, mostly from my ever forthcoming book, The Second Carolingian Modelbook. This particular strip features my attempt at the tightly pulled and totally overstitched meshy background found on so many historical artifacts worked in the voided style. The design is one that appears in museum collections, and that exists in several clearly related versions. I’ve nicknamed this one “The Lettuce Pattern” for obvious reasons.
My redaction with its curious Y-spring companion edging is largely based on this version in the Boston Museum of Fine Arts collection, Accession 99.176:
The date attribution has wandered forward a bit over the years, but is now listed as probably 17th century, possibly being of Spanish or Sicilian origin. Here is another example of Lettuce, also from the MFA, now cited as being Spanish and 17th century, Accession 95.1116 :
Although this one shows quite a bit more in-motif detail than the one above, it is still clearly a closely related pattern, and not a slice off the same original artifact. Both of these have meshy grounds, worked by tightly stitching and displacing the warp and weft, bundling them tightly together – NOT by cutting and withdrawing threads, then stitching over the remaining scaffolding. That’s another technique but distinctly different from the one employed here.
Here’s another example of the Lettuce family. This one features a simple boxed ground (no drawn meshy work here). The original is in the Brussels Museum of Art and History, Accession 20048516. The description cites it as being stitched in red silk, and dates it to the 1500s, but does not include a geographical provenance.
The Brussels example has another special spot in my heart. You can’t see more than a sliver from my clip, but it pairs Lettuce up with another favorite design, proving them to be contemporaries.
As you can see from the photos of my green piece, I’m about half-way done with this band. Here are the others above it, a photo montage shot and composed by fellow India Expat, artist, and friend Tamar Alsberg. I’m a bit greyer now, but so are we all in these salon-challenged days.
Some highlights – bit of braiding in the lower left was a ton of fun – the solid stripes are done in Montenegrin Stitch, and the bit between my hands in the center top – that’s the back. Double running rules!
If you still want more info on these individual bands, you can call up the whole project (in reverse chronological order) here.
It’s a fair question – “Where have you been?”
The answer is “Busy.”
I’ve been out fabric shopping with friends; trying to establish a regularly meeting needlework circle at a local mall on Fridays; battling the Sacred Dust of India as it tries to repossess the flat; writing a presentation and workshop on the style intersection between Kasuthi embroidery and Renaissance counted work; dealing with assorted technology annoyances; working on TNCM2; trying to parse out more interesting blog entries from my London pix; and playing with various stitching and knitting projects.
First off, I’ve taken up Big Green again. It’s tough to do here. I need very strong light, and even with a small task spot in the living room, the only place bright enough is next to a window in the middle of the day. I long for my comfy chair and spotlight at home.
It’s hard to spot the progress on this strip because it advances at such a slow rate, but it’s there.
Then there’s a new stitching project, as leggy and coarse as Big Green is fine. I bought a pack of ultra-cheap dishtowels at the supermarket, because I always seem to have run out of non-terry ones when I am looking for something to toss over rising bread. One quick wash later, and as expected for bargain basement Indian cotton – they’d faded and shrunk. But wait! That dark indigo one is now a pleasant, mottled chambray. And it’s almost even weave:
So into the stash for some ecru DMC linen floss (which I’ve now learned has been discontinued. It figures…) Because I’m stitching over 3×3 threads to even out inconsistencies in the weave, and because the linen thread is fuzzy with its own rustic character, I decided to play on that folksy appearance rather than going for crisp, tiny detail. The pattern is yet another one that will be featured in in TNCM2. This, when finished out, will be a strip decorating a pocket edge of a zippered stitching caddy. The entire outside of the case will also be worked in one of the larger all-over patterns in TNCM2. Without cutting up the dishtowel, I intend to origami it into a series of graduated pleats, then stitch perpendicular to the folds to make pockets opening “up” and “down”.
The final step will be to fold the entire thing in half, then take an over-long large-tooth jacket zipper (toddler size), and run it around three sides. This should make an organizer pouch that when zippered, lies totally flat. I may sew one of the smaller interior pockets shut, stuffing it with some sort of padding to make pin cushion (perhaps with a finer gauge fabric as liner, so I can put emery into it). And I may also stitch in a couple of pieces of sturdy felt, so it has an integrated needle-book on the inside. The details of this finishing are still idle speculation at this point. Right now, it’s just a quick doodle.
I’ve been busy with knitting, too.
I’ve finished the body of the beaded red lace scarf. I’m drafting up the companion edging, with more beads and mitered corners. I also have to “kill” the acrylic yarn so that it lies flatter. Not quite sure how I’ll achieve this, since the beads make ironing problematic. But I’ll figure it out, even if I have to do up a couple of sacrificial beaded test swatches.
Also in the photo above is the latest pair of socks. That’s pair #5 in the past two months. I work on them while we wait for the school bus in the morning, or any other time I’m waiting on a line, for a car, or find myself idle outside the apartment. After this pair I’ll have to get creative in combining the leftovers on hand. I’ve gone through most of the sock yarn I brought with me. I have a couple of balls of Noro sock yarn left, but I’d prefer to use that for some other accessory. The yarn is beautiful but I prefer wearing (and washing) other sock yarns, for comfort and durability reasons.
France may be the land of 500 cheeses, but India is the land of 10,000 snacks.
They take their snacks very seriously here. There appear to be micro-regional specialties, and a dizzying variety of basic types – far beyond the chips (crisps for my UK readers), pretzels, tortilla chips, and smattering of other items seen in American supermarkets. I suspect if a new vegetable or grain were to spontaneously appear, the US FDA would study it for two years before decreeing wholesomeness, the European Union would ban it because there is no established tradition of farming or cooking it, but India would throw open her arms and overnight it would appear in fifty new packaged fried snack foods, each with a distinctively cheerful bag.
We’ve been trying some as our weekend treat, and we’ve barely scratched the surface of what’s available at the Hypermarket down the street:
Yes, those are potato sticks. The particular variety we tried is (like much of India) perfumed with cumin. Potato (aloo) sticks come in dozens of varieties, some spicy/hot/salty, some herbed, and some plain. We really liked this one, they’re easy to nibble and go great with roasted little red-skin peanuts, smaller than those in the US, but tastier.
Oh. I forgot to mention, combining these nibbles into one’s own custom snack mix appears to be a national pastime, so we’re following suit, mixing and matching these as whimsy overtakes us.
This one is a bit messier to eat. In texture, it’s like fuzzy dust studded with little bits of roasted lentils, cashew nuts, and other seeds and spices. It’s so fine it almost needs to be spooned. It’s also intensely spicy. I love the product tag line “A Munching Device.” A good mixer to use with other, less intense varieties.
These are The Resident Male’s favorite. They’re crunchier than Cheetos, and flavored with onion and chili instead of Mystery Orange.
Puffed wheat! Very roasty tasting, and a perfect background foil to these other hot and spicy treats. I knew a little about the variety of Indian foods and was prepared for that exploration, but the wealth of casual nibbles here took me by surprise. I find it a very amusing arena for small discoveries. I’ll post more about these as we try more.
On the needlework front, I’ve made a bit of progress on the Dragon Stole:
I’m just about up to the body, half way through the first dragon.
And I’ve unpacked my stitching. I’ve set up my big green sampler.
Unfortunately, there’s no good place in the apartment to work on it. I need very bright light, and even though we finally found the exotic flavor light bulbs used in the fixtures here, and have more than one 40 watt light source in the living room, there’s still not enough light to work it by. So as a stop gap, I’ve started the Sarah Collins kit I picked up at Winterthur in 2011:
I’ve never done a kit before, preferring to muddle about on my own. I am having mixed feelings about this. It’s cumbersome, with a zillion large scale detailed charts that require constant cross-referencing. The design is pleasing, the colors are o.k., not my faves, but well suited to the design. The linen is nice, and working 3×3 is a refreshing change, quite large compared to what I’ve been stitching of late. I opted for the cotton rather than the silk threads, in part because the silk kit was expensive. That’s why I’m working it on the padded round frame. Were this silk, it would fight for space on my flat frame with Big Green.
Oh, and yes – I’m working on T2CM, too. I’m up to the exquisitely boring part, where I add proofed counts to each pattern.
Today I try to appease both my constituencies – stitchers and knitters.
First, for the knitters, I make confession that I’ve been seduced. I recently came into possession of a true one-skein wonder, two balls of Skacel’s Zauberball Crazy. One is an addled mix of red, turquoise, yellow and green (#1701), the other is chocolate, teal, cranberry and according to the official photo, on the inside somewhere – tan (#1507). It’s a lofty and soft fingering weight, 100g/459 yards per ball, enough to knit a pair of socks for me. Here are Skacel’s own photos of the two, at a color fidelity much better than I could achieve:
But looking at this stuff made me want to do something other than socks. Given the number of variables in play right now, I decided I didn’t want to take time to design my own pattern, so I began poking around the ‘net and found the Wingspan scarf. I’m working up this variant. It’s all garter stitch, with the demonstrative shaping formed by short rows. You can see the play of the extra long color repeat even in this traditional blurry String snap, taken at dawn:
A quick knit, totally on autopilot, with a clever system of traveling markers that make it impossible to make a mistake. More on this as the thing grows.
And on the Big Green Sampler, I’m inching along the fiddly bits at the bottom edge, filling in my voiding. The tightly drawn two-sided Italian cross stitch goes more quickly in an open field. Around these odd little bits – especially the Y-shaped extensions in the top and bottom borders (a detail done exactly this way in the museum original) – it’s a slow and exacting ride:
The little empty rectangles at the base of each Y are especially tricky to leave unworked. Still, I am making incremental progress none the less.
Now, why did I start the knitting project?
Compulsion. Plain and simple. I do 98% of my yarn acquisition at Wild & Woolly, my local yarn shop – a heaven on earth for knitters. But driving across the state to drop Elder Daughter off at college put me within striking distance of Webs, the Northampton, MA yarn hypermarket. My rule is not to buy stuff elsewhere that I can find locally, so Younger Daughter and I took a quick jaunt through the place looking for stand-outs – things I haven’t seen anywhere else.
That’s where I was attacked by the Zauberball. It fairly leapt of the shelf in a direct assault on my magpie color sense. It’s hard to describe this compulsion to a non-crafter. I HAD to get it, and I HAD to find something good to knit with it, and I HAD to cast on right away. That’s the way the best projects work – the absolute mandate to watch the piece take shape. Time flies on its own. Any encountered problems melt away. I look down and see more done than I realized was happening. Oddly enough, the final product while valued, is not the goal. It’s the process, the journey, the materials, and the sense of progress.
I’ll split my time between these two. Maybe I’ll figure out something myself to do with Zauberball #2. Or maybe not. But in any case, both balls have to be cooked, chewed and digested before I return to normal.
I had occasion to unroll the big green sampler last night in order to adjust the padding that was between the layers of previously stitched work. While it was out and open, I took some progress pix:
You can see that the entire piece spans the width of my dining room table. I’m more or less at the centermost strip, and at (more or less) the middle of that strip. The penny on the shot at the right will give you an idea of scale. I’m pleased with the density and patterning so far. I’m also pleased with the pulled background of the latest bit. But it is taking a VERY long time to stitch, and I’m looking forward to figuring out what will be next. Perhaps something in quick-to-finish double running, perhaps something a bit more geometric and very open. We’ll see!
In other news, I’m continuing to add both knitting and embroidery patterns to the patterns buttons at the top of the page. I’m going back through prior posts and standardizing formats, putting everything into convenient buckets for ready access. If you’ve got a request, let me know and I’ll bump it up in priority. Enjoy!
[UPDATE: A pile more patterns have been added to the Knitting Patterns page (Button above).]
Yes, I’m still porting old site content over here, but to reassure my embroidery audience, my massive green sampler is still in the works. With the quickie book covers out of the way, I’ve turned back to it:
The pulled background fill does go slowly, but progress is being made. You’re looking at about half of the strip. The large downward pointing clump of lettuce at the left is actually the center. So I’ll be working on this one for a while.
Extra bonus: See that dangling thread? That’s how I end off without adding more knots, or adding bulk that obscures the drawn mesh effect. I take several running stitches down the center of an area that will be tightly overworked. Then after I do that stitching and the loose end is captured, I snip it close to the work. Starting a new thread is done in the same way.
Extra extra bonus: If you click to zoom on the photo, you’ll see a little arrow pointing out a mistake. I’ll be ripping that little bit out. My work isn’t perfect, just proofread.
As some have pointed out, doing the fill in the voided background of this rather large strip will be a marathon effort. But I’m chipping away at it, slowly but surely:
The downward facing center spray is in fact the middle of the strip, so you’re only looking at about half of the total width. As graceful as this looks without voiding, with the background fill, it’s far more dramatic. I really like it.
Here’s another shot of the fill, held up to the light so you can see how meshy it is:
I’ve gotten better at the Italian two-sided framed cross stitch. While I had been waxing the last inch of the silk to assist in threading my needle, I’ve found that waxing the entire length really helps avoid splitting. I’ve also learned that the silk is mega-strong, and can take it when I pull firmly. So now my holes are larger and more uniform than when I began. Unfortunately I’ve also learned that this stitch is near impossible to tease out once done, so I won’t be able to go back and replace my “learning bits” stitched when I started.
For Susan – I’m using Two Sided Italian Cross Stitch, as shown in Christie’s Samplers and Stitches, 1920. I’m using the version shown in Figure 130, on page 85, but I am pulling it VERY tightly so that it behaves like a drawn thread stitch, compressing and bundling the weave while accentuating the holes. I’m using one strand of Soie d’Alger, color 1846, on a rather loosely woven (approximately) 40 count linen, and stitching with a small eye ball-point needle more commonly used for hand-hemming tricot fabrics. This particular pattern is being worked over 2×2 threads, laying down outlines first in double running, then going back and working the fill. If I had bothered to start and end my double running bits invisibly, this work would be totally identical front and reverse, with no way of telling which side is which. This is why this style was so popular in the 16th and 17th centuries for bed hangings, linens, napkins, cuffs and other items that showed on both sides. Prior to this piece I attempted this look on more standard densely woven modern even weave, with little success.
And so on to the next strip:
(With a gratuitous shot of the last strip finished out, for good measure.)
This latest pattern is rather wide, with an interesting companion edging. You can also see that the double running foreground is quite quick to work up. This is less than five days stitching, and a very short five days at that thanks to the standard run of work related deadlines. Progress will slow down now because I’m beginning to work in the background. I’m doing it in Italian two-sided framed cross stitch, pulled tightly to achieve a mesh-like effect. I’d be happier with a more profound “draw” and a more meshy presentation. I could probably get that if I were working over 3×3 threads, but I’m stitching over 2×2 here, a stitch size chosen to present as much of this large pattern as possible. But the mesh is still very evident:
There are several examples of this pattern family in museum collections, but I don’t have time to pull them up right now. I’ll save them for a future post in our “Long Lost Twins” series. Here’s the one I’m using for this stitching: Punto di Milano, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston Accession #99.176. They tentatively identify it as Spanish, from the 1600s. I’ve seen similarly lettuce-like over foliate patterns identified as being North African or Italian, from around this time and persisting (in simplified form) for the following 100 years or so. But remember – these patterns are from an area in which scholarship is still developing from its Indiana Jones/Avid 19th Century Collector roots. With the paucity of provenance and documentation left by the original collectors, I’d expect to see attributions wander a bit over the next few decades, before modern methods make temporal and location points of origin more clear.
I’ve been a bit lax of late, not posting progress on my long, green sampler. In spite of steampunk outfits, work deadlines, and other craziness, slow progress is being made. As you can see, I finished the last pattern, and I’m almost done with the latest strip:
This latest one is of a particularly long repeat. So long in fact that only a portion of it fits across this space. I’ve chosen to do it foreground style, in long-armed cross stitch. The ultimate source is one of Domenico da Sera’s modelbooks, published in Lyons, in 1532. I found a single page from Lotz 69b reproduced, and charted it up from that. This pattern will be in TNCM2.
We’re quite busy these days at String Central. I continue to work on the long green sampler. Here’s the latest strip, photographed in early dawn light. This pattern is also in TNCM2, albeit without the gridded voiding. The little complementing border was stolen from a different TNCM2 pair.
TNCM2 as a whole also progresses. And to top it off, Younger Daughter and I are hard at work on an outfit for her to wear to the Waltham Watch City Festival steampunk gala.
Long time readers here may remember that last year at this time, Younger Daughter spent quite a bit of April and May in Children’s Hospital, in the throes of an argument with her burst appendix. She had wanted to attend the festival last year, and was very disappointed to have missed it. As a distraction, we planned out the outfit she would have liked to have worn. Being on the young side, what we designed for her was more steampunk than steamy-punk (no exterior corsets, hip high hemlines, or fishnet stockings). As incentive for cooperation with often uncomfortable hospital requests, I promised to make said outfit.
Now a year later, she’s totally better and my promise has been called in. We’re about halfway through the venture. A blouse/waist has been obtained (an antique barn bargain retread). We’re just finishing up a camel wool walking skirt, and will be trimming it next week with black and brown point folded ribbon. She’ll be decorating a brown suede bolero with copious brass buttons, plus a watch, a compass and a magnifying glass. The bolero and buttons were also flea market finds. Pix of all of these as they near completion. But I can present her hat:
She started with an costume top hat, and excised about 2 inches of height. She covered the surgical scar with a brown ribbon, complete with a bow and streamers in the back; then added feathers and gears.