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EPIC FANDOM STITCHALONG – BAND 10

Time for one of the “in-betweeners” – the simpler bands that alternate with the more complex, themed ones. This one is entitled PORTAL TO NOWHERE

Yes, I know this was supposed to be a plain and boring strip. It started out as a simple geometric with some interlaced bits to make it interesting.  After I finished drawing, I noted the vague echo of a Portal Cube in its center motif.  Subconscious channeling from other dimensions?  Probably just coincidence.  Yes, that’s right.  Coincidence.

Time Factor 2 for height and the overlapping flanges on the motifs (Without those layered bits I’d consider this a Time Factor 1.)  Use one color, multiple colors, or variegated threads, as you prefer.  As with the rest of Epic, there are no rules or must-do approaches

134 stitches wide x 18 stitches tall. 2 blank rows left between this and the following strip. If worked as a continuous band, one full repeat in 12 units.

SamplesFabric UsedStitchThread Consumption/
Notes
28 count evenweaveBack stitch, 1 plyAbout 1 yard
each of black and red
18 count AidaBack stitch, 1 plyVariegated floss
28 count evenweaveBack stitch, 1 ply
28 count evenweaveDouble running,
2 plies
About 1.75 yards
of light red,
remnants of
light green
Top to bottom: Renditions by Beta Testers Heather, Danielle, and Callie plus Kim

As usual this band plus working notes and hints has been appended to the bottom of the write-up on the SAL page, accessible via this link or via the tab at the top of every page here on String-or-Nothing.

If you are working our Epic Fandom SAL either as a whole or as a strip excerpt, please let me know. It gives me great joy to see how my “pattern children” fare out in the wide, wide world, especially when they meet up with creative, playful people. And if you give permission, I’d be happy to share your pix of this developing sampler, it in its finished state, or derivative projects including one or more of the Epic bands here on String, in a gallery post, with full credit to you as interpretive artist.

Band 11 debuted on the Facebook Enablers group today and will be echoed here on 15 March 2022.

AMENDS

Modern Assisi work vs. historical voided work. I know that the counted thread stitching community lumps them together, but they are not exactly the same thing. What I call “modern Assisi” is the 19th century revival of voided stitching, that draws heavily on Italian folk and church embroidery styles, which in turn trace their roots back to Renaissance era voided pieces. And that late 19th century revival was again echoed in the 20th century, with the collection and republication of many patterns, and issue of new books on the subject.

Yes, both Assisi and earlier styles include prominent outlines usually done in double running or back stitch. And both feature largely unstitched foregrounds (sometimes with additional ornamentation) that contrast strongly with a stitched background.

One of the key defining characteristics of modern Assisi is the use of cross stitch for the background. That’s “plain old cross stitch (POCS)” – not long-armed cross stitch. The Renaissance era voided styles use many different ground stitches and approaches, but so far after looking at hundreds of extant examples, I haven’t seen any in POCS.

Which is why I got very excited when I stumbled across this piece. Now before you get excited too, I did NOT find the unicorn of POCS in pre 1650-era voided work.


“End of a Tablecloth” 15th-16th century. Italian, Sicilian or Spanish. Metropolitan Museum of Art, Accession 08.48.132

I made the mistake of idly browsing on my phone with its tiny screen, and jumping the gun I posted about the piece before I got back to my laptop and high resolution monitor. Obviously, once I was able to zoom in I corrected my mistake, but I did look like an idiot.

So to atone for my egregious lack of judgement, I charted the design in question, and make the chart available as a broadside, for your own personal, non-commercial use. Please do not republish my redaction or include it in other pattern collections.

CLICK HERE TO DOWNLOAD A PDF BROADSIDE OF THE CHART.

Some notes on this piece.

My redaction is not true to any one repeat of the design. Instead I averaged all of them, evening out replication errors as best I could, to arrive at a single, uniform representation of the motifs. All design elements are there, in correct proportion and placement to each other, but there will be small deviations between the chart above and any one of the artifact’s pattern iterations.

The background is not worked in POCS. It was worked squared and unlike every other example of the squared filling on historical works I’ve seen, the stitches were pulled very tightly, bundling the ground cloth’s threads together. Meshy techniques for grounds were very popular in the 1600s and 1700s, but every other example I’ve seen has completely covered the bundled threads with stitching, making a very hard-wearing totally overstitched square mesh ground. In this case the ground cloth’s weave does show through.

The squared filling was worked up to but not touching the outlines of the foreground motifs. A one-unit “halo” was left around them. I’ve tried to represent that on my chart. There was considerable “fudging” in the way the filling was carried into the nooks and crannies of the foreground design. I’ve chosen the least acrobatic of them to include in the chart. Note that there are a couple of deviation points where a diagonal stitch was used to carry the ground thread up into a narrow area of the design.

Colors. Your guess is as good as mine. The outlines and the ground fill are clearly two different colors. If I had to guess, I would probably opt for black for the outlines and madder red for the fill. But other color combos do exist – not every historical piece was done in black and red.

The outlines – double running or back stitch? It’s impossible to tell from just looking at the front. I do note however that the spots on the leopards are all connected to the outline. There are none just floating in space, which makes the piece easier to execute in double running than a piece with discontinuous bits. The only minor challenge in this one if worked in double running would be that little hunting dog. It’s a small area not connected to any of the rest of the design.

And finally, the complementing edging. Note that the squared background is terminated with little “fingers” that slant up and to the right on the top of the strip, and down and to the left at the bottom. I tried to get the whole repeat on the chart, but I ran out of room. For absolute fidelity, work the bottom fingers exactly as tall as the ones on top. Don’t truncate as I was forced to do.

The moral of the story? Check, double check, and do so on the highest resolution display device you have to hand. Never let your excitement run away with you.

EPIC FANDOM STITCHALONG – BAND 8

To continue our slither through North American winter I present Band 8 – Snakes! And They’re Plain!
OK. So, this one is a bit more creepy-crawly than it is classic-blackwork-floral-ordinary. My excuse is that I drew it in the run-up to the 2019 Halloween season, adapting it from a design in Ensamplario Atlantio II, one of my free books of blackwork fills and borders. Plus, we should only ignore those who adore campy horror movies at our own peril.

Time Factor 1 for height and the ultra-simple straight repeat. Our scaly friends are all identical, with the second row flipped and travelling the opposite direction. Feel free to work all the right-bound crawlies in one pass, and then all the left bound ones, or hop back and forth as you please. Use one color, multiple colors, or variegated threads, as you prefer. There are no rules or must-do approaches here. One of the beta testers used beads for the eyes – a charming enhancement.

134 stitches wide x 16 stitches tall. 2 blank rows left between this and the following strip. If worked as a continuous band, one full repeat in 23 units.

SamplesFabric UsedStitchThread Consumption/
Notes
28 count evenweaveBack stitch, 1 ply
18 count AidaBack stitch, 1 ply
28 count evenweaveBack stitch, 1 plyAbout 2 yards
Plus 20 beads
(See below)
28 count evenweaveDouble running,
2 plies
About 1.5 yards
each of light red
and light green,
about 0.75 yards
of light blue and yellow each
Top to bottom: Renditions by Beta Testers Heather, Danielle, and Callie plus Kim

As usual this band plus working notes and hints has been appended to the bottom of the write-up on the SAL page, accessible via this link or via the tab at the top of every page here on String-or-Nothing.

If you are working our Epic Fandom SAL either as a whole or as a strip excerpt, please let me know. It gives me great joy to see how my “pattern children” fare out in the wide, wide world, especially when they meet up with creative, playful people. And if you give permission, I’d be happy to share your pix of this developing sampler, it in its finished state, or derivative projects including one or more of the Epic bands here on String, in a gallery post, with full credit to you as interpretive artist.

Band 9 debuted on the Facebook Enablers group today, and will invade here on or about 1 February 2022. I’m betting you’ll be long finished with Snakes before then.



DETOUR INTO KNITTING – FIREFLIES IN THE WINTER

It’s true I haven’t knit in a while. But I did do nine pairs of socks for the holidays this year, some of which are shown below. And while I was at it, I dropped hints to Younger Offspring, who was enthused by the thought of a new pullover.

I first knit this classic Penny Straker unisex design decades ago. It was probably the third sweater I made and was a present for one of my sisters. This is the cover photo from the original leaflet. Note the armhole depth (we’ll get back to that later).

It was the early 1980s – long before blogging, so I don’t have pictures or notes detailing my first attempt, but it was a happy success. I’m pretty sure I used Germantown worsted, in a deep burgundy and a lighter, coordinating plum. I do remember that it was super thick and stiff because of the Eye of Partridge stitch uses a lot of slip stitches, making a double-thick fabric. In fact that stitch often used as a self-reinforcing treatment for sock heels, to make them both cushier and more wear-resistant.

My sister’s sweater ended up being a great outdoor activity wearable – perfect for someone engaged in winter exercise like cross country skiing, and too warm for indoor wear. But as we were flipping through some possibilities it was the one that caught Younger Offspring’s eye. So I downloaded a copy of the revised pattern from the Straker website (it’s now offered in an extended size range) and off we went to Webs, making a small detour out in western Massachusetts on the official Deposit-Child-Back-At-Home-Away-From-Home trip to Troy, New York.

At Webs I found a candidate yarn that came in the desired black and screaming chartreuse colors – Euro Baby Babe 100. It’s a butter-soft acrylic/polyamide (nylon) blend, and at 356 yards for 100g, a great value.

But it’s not a true worsted. It’s a DK. That means that instead of the standard 5 stitches per inch (spi) in stockinette, it works better at 5.5 spi in stockinette.

Complications ensue.

Although the pattern is clearly written for a heavier yarn, but I took a risk and bought the Babe anyway. I swatched until I found a needle combo and gauge that I liked. In this case, 6 spi/8 rows per inch (rpi) on US #7s (4.5mm) in Eye of Partridge instead of the pattern’s specified 5 spi/7 rpi on US #8s (5mm).

I’ve done the math for Younger Offspring’s chosen size (a swim-in-it oversize fit), and have cast on the revised number of stitches, plus two more – I always add selvedge stitches for easy seaming. I will work my new number until I am close to the specified length for the below-arm torso, then I will figure out the raglan shaping, taking notes so I can match the row count on the sleeves. I know that these Straker patterns were all written with very tight armholes by modern standards. It was the style back then. So there is room for me to err on the up side. If I need a few more rows to accommodate the raglan shaping than the original used, that will be ok. The armhole will end up a smidge larger, and that won’t be bad at all.

So to finish this already over-long, stitching-free post, here’s three evening’s worth of progress on the back. The drape is fluid, and the yarn is super soft and luxurious, uncommon in an acrylic. The color contrast reminds me of fireflies on a dark night. With luck this one should knit up quickly into a bundle of fun.

MORE COUSINS

Just because I’ve taken a departure from classic stitching and am issuing heretical blackwork patterns for spaceships, robots, and dinosaurs doesn’t mean I haven’t abandoned research. I am also inching The Second Carolingian Modelbook (T2CM) closer to the goal posts.

I continue to find multiple instances of design duplicates scattered across various museums. Here’s a trio. Clearly stitched from the same inspiring pattern. Whether it’s from an as yet unidentified modelbook or broadside sheet, an atelier’s cloth reference sample, or just copied among stitchers hand to hand is impossible to determine. However, this design will be included in T2CM so stitchers of the future can keep this historical “chain letter” going..

First, my own stab at the thing, as worked on my big blackwork sampler. I call it “Leafy-Bricks” for obvious reasons.

The first instance of Leafy-Bricks I stumbled across is in the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, Accession #07.816. It’s a small fragment, but it’s the one on which I based my redaction. They tentatively identify it as likely to be Italian, but do not date it. This snippet was collected in the very late 1800s/first decade of the 1900s during the “Indiana Jones” era of embroidery and lace sample acquisition – the time in which monied families took a season touring Europe, vying with each other to bring back the most exquisite samples of whatever struck their fancy. These collections were eventually donated to major museums to form the backbone of their historical embroidery holdings. The time/place provenances furnished by dealers or middlemen and conveyed with these pieces upon donation are not necessarily to be trusted. Many museums are now revisiting these pieces to correct annotations that haven’t changed in 75+ years.

One interesting thing to note is that the count of the historical ground above is not as square as the count of my modern linen. The design is somewhat squashed left to right and elongated north-south compared to mine, although the unit counts are the same.

The second one is in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Accession 09.50.55. Unlike many duplications among museums it’s not an instance of one original artifact having been cut apart for sale to multiple buyers. Not only is the center panel duplicated here, there are also subtle differences in the design, especially in the border. The Met only shows this in black and white and does not provide information on the color used. They date it to the 1600s, and attribute it to Italy.

And third, which I only stumbled upon today. This one appears to be a photo only recently released by the Victoria and Albert Museum, Accession 645-1896. Be still my heart, it shows the design on fragments that were pieced into a wearable apron, providing a use case beyond what can be known from a simple fragment. The V&A also notes that the apron was composed from previously stitched fragments. They label the assembled wearable as 1630-1660, Italian, but it’s unknown what life the embroidered strips had before that usage. Best of all, among their images is one that shows the back. Yup. Double running stitch. And yes, I know they see vases in the composition, but my mind is stuck on describing the center bits as bricks.

Note the stretch across the bottom, seamed together from two distinct fragments. And the butted corner formed by a third, although butted corner treatments are more commonly represented in survivals than are pieces with carefully planned mitered or otherwise customized corners. As far as the design’s manifestation on the apron, it’s very, very close to that on the MFA’s fragment. But it’s not identical. There are small differences in the veining pattern of the main repeat’s leaves which lead me to believe it’s a fragment of another original, and not a leftover from whatever item was repurposed into the apron.

If you’ve spotted other instances of Leafy-Bricks out in the wild or have seen it in a modelbook of the 1500s to 1600s, please let me know.

Oh. And if you are interested in obtaining a copy of The New Carolingian Modelbook (my first and now out of print book), I know it’s hard to find. I don’t have any to sell myself, but on rare occasion someone finds a copy and sends it to me. Just such a copy recently came into my hands. I have sent it on to a charitable auction to benefit the SCA Barony Concordia of the Snows, which recently lost all of its communally held equipment in a devastating fire. That auction will be held on 28 August at East Kingdom Coronation. I do not know if the auction will be web-accessible. If I find out I will update this post accordingly.

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.

CAT AND MOUSE

An odd confluence of happenstances and the resulting doodle.

Last week there was a discussion in one of the Facebook groups dedicated to 1500s costuming or blackwork that started with someone asking for a historical blackwork design that featured cats. There aren’t many examples, and the chat covered iconography, citing that cats weren’t the most auspicious of symbols at that time.

Then an unusual source came across my feed: a line-rendered group of cats, but not from the period in question. This plate flew across my Twitter feed. The source is Ernest Allen Batchelder’s Design in Theory and Practice, New York: Macmillan, 1910.

This appears on page 157. The book is a rather lively examination of design principles across history, and appears to be a transitional work, including the natural elements of the aesthetic/Art Nouveau style, but more solidly grounding the more angular principles that characterize the Art Deco/late Craftsman mood. For all I know it may be a seminal point in decorative design history, but I will leave that point to be hashed over by any readers who are schooled in design theory and lineages.

In any case, here were some linear cats just crying out to be graphed and stitched. So in response to a generalized (as opposed to Elizabethan-specific) demand for cats and to delight cat-loving friends and family, here is what the Batchelder sketch inspired:

An easy to download PDF file containing this chart is available on the Embroidery Patterns tab of this site, or by clicking HERE.

This is rather large to be used as a fill pattern in inhabited blackwork (the subtype with outlines and fancy fills), but it is in scale for use as a large all-over design. I could see it being worked as is, in double running or back stitch, in monochrome or in multiple colors (those yarn balls cry out for variegated thread). It could be done voided, with the background filled in. The cats could be solidly stitched or left as is, or customized to match the markings of favorite pets (I provide a rudimentary tabby and tuxedo but any other markings might be fudged in). A frieze of this as the leftmost third of a placemat might be fun. I leave use up to you.

Like my other designs of late, this is “good-deed-ware.” If you like it and use it, I encourage you to look around and make a donation to a local cause that is helping people hit hard by plague-related economic challenges. “Starving artist” should be a metaphor, not a life description.

BLACKWORK THREAD THICKNESS AND GROUNDS

I’ve recently had chats with several folk who ask about the number of threads they are supposed to be using when working linear blackwork (fills or the strapwork designs commonly done in double running or back stitch).

I attempt to answer, and the answer isn’t a plain, flat “always.”

There are several factors to consider for counted work. First there is the ground fabric. Some people favor purpose-wovens like Aida, Hardanger, Monks’ Cloth or Anna Cloth. These are made with large, prominent holes for easy counting. They come in a variety of stitch-per-inch (or cm) sizes. They range from 9 to around 22 stitch per inch (aka “count”). The more stitches per inch, the smaller those stitches are.

Other types of grounds are also used, with even weave (or near-even-weave) being less popular than the purpose-wovens. These grounds are flat tabby woven fabrics. They do not have a system of prominent holes for easy counting – to use them the stitcher counts the threads of the weave itself. Most sold specifically for embroidery are more or less true and square, with very close equivalent measurements of the threads running the length of the bolt (the warp), and across the bolt (the weft). The measurement of fineness of weave for these fabrics is expressed as threads-per-inch (or cm), and they can range from around 20 threads-per-inch (tpi) all the way up to 50 tpi or more. Stitchers generally work over a visualized square of 2×2 threads, so a 24 tpi piece of even weave would yield the same 12 stitches per inch as 12-count Aida, but the holes between the threads would be far smaller and less obvious.

Now aberrations exist. Not everyone works over 2×2 threads on even weave, and it is possible to work counted styles on anything you can actually see well enough to count, whether or not the warp thread count is even close to that of the weft. But in general, the ground cloth world splits into purpose-woven/larger more prominent holes; and (near) even weave/smaller, less evident holes.

On to thread.

It’s all over the map. The most common thread used today is standard 6-ply embroidery floss, but there are hundreds of other options. And even plain old embroidery floss is NOT uniform. Not even if they are of the same fiber. For example, DMC and Anchor cotton flosses have very slight differences in ply thickness, with the DMC (most of the time) being ever so slightly thicker than the Anchor. And even within a line, there can be variation because different colors take up dye differently, or because of visual impact of the color used (a dark thread will often appear heavier than one of a lighter color, even if there is no actual difference between them). And if you begin comparing across fiber types/spin types even more complications ensue – One ply of DMC cotton 6-ply is thicker than one ply of Au Ver a Soie six-ply silk, for example.

Here are three examples on even weave (please excuse me for not having Aida samples to hand – I don’t use it.)

First, here is an example of 32-count even weave linen (16 stitches per inch), worked with two strands of a six-ply silk – a small lot product produced by a boutique hand-dyer. Note that the individual stitches are about as thick as the ground cloth’s weave. They fill the holes into which they are stitched completely, and in fact are a bit jammed up into them, making intersections just a bit muddy and tight:

Here is that same ground, worked using just one ply of the same thread used in the previous sample.

You can see that the stitched thread is significantly thinner than the ground cloth’s weave, and that corners and angles are sharper. But the stitching thread still fills the holes, and doesn’t “rattle around” in them. There is another difference – the stitching doesn’t look as even. It’s harder to achieve a uniform appearance with skinny threads, but the difference that shows up in extreme close-up is less evident at normal viewing distance.

Which is better? It depends. One or two threads are both suitable for use with this fabric. Do I want a light and lacy effect? Do I want something darker and more strident? Should I accent the close, dense and angular aspect of a design (as on the left), or should I try to bring out the curves and delicacy (on the right)?

By contrast with these two balanced examples, there’s the piece I am working on right now. I am working the black bit with one strand of standard DMC 6-ply cotton floss. It’s about 14 stitches per inch (28 threads per inch).

Obviously the count on this stuff is skew. It’s not true even weave. Were it so the enmeshed ovals would present more like circles. But it’s close enough so stitched-it-will-be. Look closely at the size of the thread and the holes in the weave. Even though the black thread is slightly thinner than the fabric’s threads (like the lacy sample above) – look at it in comparison to the gaping holes between the fabric’s threads. It’s tiny and spindly. It’s lost. It wobbles. Corners are extremely difficult to keep square, angles are being pulled, and the threads that make up the design do not present in nearly as neat rows as the previous example. This same ground, with two plies of DMC? Much better looking:

In this case, I would advise AGAINST using this particular ground with only one ply of standard floss. It’s holes are too big. I’ll finish out my black interlace mask pieces, but I won’t be using a single on this stuff again.

And mixing thicknesses? It’s a great tool. Jack Robinson – the UK’s Blackwork Patron Saint (now of blessed memory) – was a strong advocate for both historical and modern pieces that mixed thread thicknesses.

Here are a couple of examples of doing so, from my own work. I find it of special use for giving modern-style voided pieces a lighter background touch, although I have also used it to de-emphasize veining inside particularly complex leaves on non-voided work.

First: In addition to using a different background pattern for each, the yellow ground on the left is done with one strand of DMC floss, and the yellow ground on the right, with two so you can see the density.

Second: Foreground and background in the same color, but the foreground is worked with two strands, and the background with one.

Now how does this work out on Aida? Again, I apologize for not having samples to hand. I don’t use it. The reason why I don’t is that I find the holes to be a visual distraction that take away from the presentation of the work as a whole. I’ve seen magnificent stitching on Aida, and I throw no shade on those who prefer it. But to me those holes can be way too big for the thread choices many people use. Like my wobbly sample above, the threads have too much play, and even tension without distortion at the corners or avoiding jaggy lines can be more difficult to control because the holes are big compared to the stitching thread.

For myself and my own work aesthetic, I prefer a well-stuffed hole (sometimes bordering on over-stuffed), and select my threads accordingly. One strand on Aida? I’d suggest two. Or three if it’s 12 or 14 count. But as in all things, my practice is not a yardstick by which you should measure your own preferences.

Look closely at your product. Try to understand why the threads behave as they do. Are you happy with your stitching? Think about your design goals. Even if you are interpreting a pattern by someone else there is plenty of scope in there for your own design choices. Thread thickness and proportion to the ground and to the size of the holes are just more variables you can play with to make any piece visually distinctive and uniquely yours.

Remember my family’s latke rules. Every family’s latkes are different, and every family’s latkes are the best. The same goes for stitching.

HARSH FINISH, SOFT BEGINNING

Setting a new overland speed record for completion, I offer my Harsh Language piece.  I began it on 22 August, and finished on 30 August.   Eight days.  Lightning fast, especially considering that I only stitch for an average of an hour and a half per day (more on weekend days, less midweek).  Here it is in all its glory.  I’ve redacted not the offending verb but the dedication, because as I’ve said before, the recipient wishes to remain anonymous.

harsh-finish

I did have fun playing with the wool.  It was much thinner and more tightly spun and cleanly finished (read non-fuzzy) than tapestry/needlepoint wools, and a joy to use.

In addition to the hints I offered up before, I would add that even with the shorter length, care must be taken to let the needle and strand spin freely, in order to counteract the twist imposed during the stitching process.  That twist can loosen the spin of the wool strand enough to denature it to the point of shredding.  You can see a couple of heavy stitches in the piece, where I was nearing the end of the strand, and the thread had “bloomed” but I kept going.

And yes, the weave of the ground wasn’t quite proportionally even.  I don’t remember where this stuff came from – purchased retail, found at a yard sale, acquired as a gift – but it’s been in my stash easily since 1996, and has a yellowed selvage edge to prove it.  But aside from that flappy edge (no where near this stitching), it was sound.  It’s probably a cotton/linen blend.  You can see the skewing in this detail.  Horizontal stitches are just a tad wider than verticals, and diagonals are not 45-degrees.

harsh-close

What’s next?

Well I pulled out this remnant, and used about a third of it on this little piece.  The remainder will go to become decorative outer layers for some masks.  This open weave fabric is pretty useless as any sort of barrier, so I will line the masks with two or more layers of nice, tight 100% cotton 300-count pillowcases (retired from their prior duty).  They are navy blue.

I will be using more thread provided by Stealth Apprentice for beta-testing.  It’s luscious silk, dyed in one of her early indigo vat experiments. The color of the thread ranges from a nice deep denim down to Wedgewood, and was the child of serendipity, not a planned effort to produce a variegated.

20200901_073507

I admit I put this hank off because it posed some minor problems.   It’s a multi-strand floss, but during color processing it became rather matted and tangled (it was before she learned better methods to secure the hanks during dyeing), and the indigo itself does crock quite a bit, leaving blue fingers and traces on the ground as it is stitched.  However this blue was an very early experiment long before she went retail with her products, so all is forgiven.

To deal with the matting I’m using the full strand and not trying to separate the plies. To tame the tangle, instead of trying to wind it I cut the skein in one place, and looped it over a stick.  I’m teasing out strands one by one at the loop, and using them in full “cut length.”

There can be no mistakes with this stuff – it does leave very evident marks if picked out.  And I fully expect the color to migrate onto the backing during washing.  But that’s o.k., too.  I think the look will be quite interesting after haloing.  The navy inner layers may peek through the somewhat loose weave and camouflage some of that halo.

Challenges considered, I am very glad I saved this thread until just the right project appeared.  This piece will certainly change over time as it is subjected to my ungentle care. Masks after all need vigorous cleaning.  The blue may bloom onto the ground cloth.  Such leeched color may dissipate over subsequent washes, or the threads themselves might do a old-jeans fade.  All are anticipated and none are unwelcome.  So while the thread might not have been optimal for some other more formal projects, it’s spot on perfect for this one.

I’ve got enough fabric for at least four masks.  Possibly five.  I’m not sure if I will do them all in this blue, or I’ll play with other threads – either monochrome or in a wild mix (I think there’s only enough blue for two, anyway).  I don’t know if I’ll stick to all-over designs.  I might for example doodle up one in an inhabited blackwork design – the scrolling flowers with heavy outlines, with patterned or speckled fillings.  I’ll probably skip metal threads and spangles though, due to the laundering requirement.  Or I may do one with scattered, themed spot motifs – insects, for example.  Or I may do several “zones” and use different fillings in each.  Or I’ll work band designs on the diagonal.  The possibilities are endless, and (sadly) I don’t see the need for masks going away any time soon.

Will I make all four? How will they play out? Will something else catch my easily distractable eye, and I’ll do that instead? Will I keep these or give them away?  Stay tuned.  (And they say needlework has no excitement, mystery, or suspense.)

Oh.  And there is no “bad” thread.  There’s a perfect project for just about anything that can be used.  I love this blue silk and I will enjoy stitching with every inch.

REVISITING THE STUPID CUPIDS

Remember this sampler I completed early last year?

cupids-big

I went on at length about the rather goofy looking cupid strip at the bottom, and about the cousins of the middle strip, but I never discussed the top strip – the cupid and oak branch meander that includes the poor little guy being menaced by the lion.

I haven’t seen this cupid strip in any modelbook (yet).  But I’ve found several examples of it in museum collections.  My rendition is more or less a  “moving average” of all of them, and will be in my ever-forthcoming T2CM.

This design is notable because of the multiple ways in which it has been rendered.  Here are five.  I’ve got another two someplace in my notes.  When I find them I’ll update this post.

St-Gallen-cupid

First, there’s the standard single strip with edging representation above, marked as 16th century, Italian – double running in silk, in red – one of the most common colors for this type of work. It’s in the St. Gallen Textilmuseum in Switzerland, and can be found in their on-line collection, Accession 23760 (you probably will have to search for the object by accession number because their links are dynamic and break).

double-cupids

This is the same pattern doubled and turned into a frame. It’s also sourced as 16th century, Italian.   Note that the design is butted, not mitered, with an interesting truncated bit to fill in the left and right sides. There is no accessible link for this piece at the source I stumbled on – 1st Dibs Antiques, but that appearance was within the past year. All I have is a screen cap, and the photo is long gone from the sales site.  However complications ensue.  It or something practically identical was offered at Bonham’s site several years ago. Thistle Threads did an excellent write-up of the Bonham’s offering 2016.  (She’s got some up close photos, too).

herm-cupid

The blue sample above is from the Hermitage Museum, It’s dated 16th to early 17th century, Italian, double running, with the voided ground worked in squared filling.  It’s accession number is T-2799.  (If the link breaks, search there for “Bad Spread” (sic).)  This is the piece on which my rendition is most closely based.

met-cupids

The black and white image above is hard to make out, but it’s clearly the same cupids, done in polychrome AND with a worked ground.  It’s not really voided because the foreground isn’t left plain or minimally adorned.  There’s not much elaboration on the Metropolitan Museum’s page, but it is attributed as Italian, of the early 17th century. It’s accession 68.145.6.  I hope some day they go back and take another, better photo.

And lastly, there’s this one.  The most unusual of them all.  Here is our friend (blindfolded for a change), done using red silk outlines, but then infilled with couched gold metal thread.

gold-cupid

This example is in the Cooper-Hewitt Museum.  Its citation is Band, 16th century; silk, metallic yarn on linen; H x W: 110 x 90 cm (43 5/16 x 35 7/16 in.); Gift of Richard C. Greenleaf; 1954-167-2

Now.  Why post all of these versions?  First, because they are interesting.  Second, to refute a commonly held belief that there is only ONE right way to execute these designs.  Stitchers took the same base pattern and used it in many individual ways.  Monochrome, polychrome.  Plain ground, voided, or totally overstiched. There is no canon. 

Be historically faithful and execute historical designs in any of the myriad styles contemporary with the base pattern.  It would be very difficult to make the case that any one of those treatments was never used. Or take the same pattern and reinterpret it using modern styles, scale, or materials.  There are no Embroidery Police who enforce historical precedent over individual expressive creativity. 

Which is a long-winded way of saying that if a pattern sings to you, just go for it.

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