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THE STITCHES SPEAK – Part 4

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

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THE STITCHES SPEAK – Part 3

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

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THE STITCHES SPEAK – Part 2

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

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THE STITCHES SPEAK – Part 1

Roughly four years ago I was invited to give a talk on historical styles of counted embroidery at an embroidery Schola (day of lectures and workshops), held under the auspices of a regional group of the Society for Creative Anachronism.

I put together some talking points and visuals and gave the chat.  I think the audience was a bit overwhelmed, though because I didn’t get many questions or much feedback.

Today I was going through some old files and came upon my talk’s slide deck.  I share it here now.  Note that some things have come to light since I spoke in 2014.  Most obvious among that is the reclassification of several patterns by the holding institutions, moving them from uncertain provenance or continental/southern European 16th/17th century provenance to their proper place in Morocco.  I’ve written about this group before, but they are represented in the talk, in their “before” incarnation.

In any case, here are the images from my talk.  It’s long (no one ever accused me of being concise when it comes to discourse on my fave subject).  Therefore, I’ll break the thing up into roughly six parts over the coming days.

Enjoy!

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MORE CHANTERELLES

Well, this pattern has wound my curiosity up around itself.  The basic design of the Chanterelle scarf is quite simple, but it can look quite different depending on the yarn chosen.  I have written it for any 100g ball of fingering/sock weight yarn, and finding out what the various yarns end up looking like when knit up – that’s turning out to be tons of fun.

So let’s start.

So far I’ve used two different Schoppel Zauberball Crazy colors: the autumn/purples mix of the original, plus a lilac/cream/navy mix. The pix below the scarves are photos of the SAME color numbers of Zauberball as the ones I knit from.  There is considerable variation between balls of the stuff, but you can get an idea of how the original yarn looked, none the less.

 

 

The ends look different because for some reason although the balls were marked with identical yardage, the one on the left was significantly shorter, and yielded only ten trumpet sections, while the shades-of-purple one yielded 11.  Go figure…  In any case, it’s nice that regardless of how many full sections are knit, the ends still complement the piece.

Here’s the third try.  This one is a stash-aged Opal yarn, whose label with its color number has long since gone the way of all things.

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You can see that the color runs are pretty wide, and unlike the happy chaos of Zauberball Crazy, the repeat is very predictable.  Variation happens because the yardage required to produce one trumpet isn’t in synch with that of the yarn’s printed repeat,  so the colors wander up and down the trumpet motifs, and the faux Fair Isle spot manifests differently each time it pops up, shaped mostly by the width of the section where it appears.

I’m now trying for Chanterelle #4.  This one is from another stash-aged yarn – another ball that was a gift from the generous Nancys.  It’s Schoeller and Stahl’s Fortisimma Socka Color, # 1776 – a red, white, and blue mix. This one looks to have small to medium width stripes.

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We’ll see how these stripes manifest.  I’ve obviously not gotten this out of my system yet, so I’m sure I’ll be doing some more Chanterelles.  Luckily they are a quick and mindless knit, and can be done while watching subtitled movies and shows on TV.

If you want to do up a Chanterelle and would like me to post it, you can find the free pattern under the Scarves section of the Knitting Patterns tab at the top of this page.  I’d be grateful for pix of the skein and pix of the finished product, as done above.  That will help others decide whether or not this design would work for their beautiful but problematic yarns, too.

CHANTERELLE – EVERYTHING OLD IS NEW AGAIN

UPDATE:  THE DOWNLOADABLE PDF PATTERN FOR CHANTERELLE HAS BEEN ADDED TO MY KNITTING PATTERNS PAGE, AT THE TAB ABOVE.

A bit more mindless knitting this week past.  I have two balls of Zauberball Crazy, a wildly variegated (and expensive) fingering weight yarn.  Both balls had minor damages to them, and I wanted to work them up quickly.  But I didn’t want to make socks.  This stuff’s colors are so over the top that I wanted to make something that would be seen.  Scarves are ideal.  I’ve done several before using Wingspan and its variants, or other designs calculated to display the gradients to their best effect.  But I wanted to do something different.  I cast on for a couple of designs I found on Ravelry, but wasn’t particularly pleased.

What to do….

Ah.  Thinking back, my most popular pattern of all time is Kureopatora’s Snake.  That was written for a DK weight variegated, and was the result of happy experiment.  It’s basically Entrelac, but slimmed down to just the two edge triangles, and worked over a large number of stitches.  The result is a graceful interlock of trumpet shapes, with the trumpet’s spread accentuated by working a purl into (not just slipping) the K2tog join stitch at the end of each partial row before the turn.

Why not make that one up in fingering weight, and publish the pattern adaptations that make it work?

So I present the first of the two test pieces.  I’ll be starting the second tonight:

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First off, I’ve renamed the thing. Now that it’s independent of the original yarn, I re-dub this one “Chanterelle.”  Yes, there are ends (the initial cast-on, bind off, plus a couple of damages).  A personal quirk – I don’t darn in the ends until I am ready to give my knit gift to the recipient.  This will sit un-darned until then.

I will be writing up the full design again under the new name, but for now, start with the Kureopatora’s Snake pattern, available for free at the Knitting Patterns tab at the top of this page.

CHANTERELLE:
A FINGERING-WEIGHT VARIATION OF KUREOPATORA’S SNAKE

Grab your ball of fingering weight variegated yarn.  ONE ball of Zauberball Crazy made this scarf, with only about 3 yards of yarn left over.  It’s about 5 inches wide (a bit under 8 cm), and 66 inches long (a bit under 168 cm).  Gauge is pretty much unimportant.  I recommend a MUCH looser gauge than one would use for socks.  I used a US #5 needle (3.5mm) for this project.

Follow the Kureopatora pattern as written for the initial section, but instead of stopping when you have 30 stitches on the needle, keep going until you have 46.

Work the entire scarf as-written, until you have completed ten full trumpet sections (not counting the partial trumpet done to initiate the project).

Follow the directions for the final finishing section, EXCEPT that instead of working the final section as normal until there are 15 stitches on each needle, keep going until you have 23 stitches on each needle.  Then on every row that begins on the edge of the scarf after that, work a SSK instead of the increase you have been doing throughout the prior sections.

DO NOT STRETCH-BLOCK this piece.  If you feel it’s lumpy, moisten it and pat it flat, but do not use wires or pins to stretch it out.  You want to preserve those graceful curves.

SWISH BY SWISH

I continue to make slow progress on my Fish piece.  Again, I plead the heat, the general malaise it creates, my unwillingness to sit under a hot halogen work light, and a reticence to stitch with sweaty fingers.  But as you can see, I’m almost done with the center area gold water swirls.  Just a few “echo lines” are left to add to the group below the head of Fish #1, then I will have to advance the scroll, to get the remaining bits at the top and bottom.  (Swirly lines that currently go off the edges of my stitching area have been saved until the work area is realigned, even if they go over by just a little bit.)  And of course, sign the thing with my initials and the date.

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I do like the way the spirals of gold in the head spots turned out.

More answers to inbox questions:

Where did you get the gold and sequins?

The #5 imitation gold thread came from the Japanese Embroidery Center, in Atlanta Georgia.  The 2mm gold tone pailettes came from General Bead, in San Francisco.  Both were ordered off the ‘net sight-unseen.

How are you sewing down the gold?

Standard simple couching, of two strands held together, flat and parallel (not twisted around each other).  I’m using one strand of gold-tone silk, heavily waxed, taking little stitches across the gold.  The stitches get closer together as curves are formed, and further apart on the straight runs, but generally don’t exceed about 5mm (3/16ths of an inch) apart.

The no-hands frame is an absolute must for this type of work.  I hold the gold and bend it into a curve to match the sketched lines with my left hand, then use the right to form the affixing stitches, taking care not to pull so tightly that I deform the line.  After the length is stitched down and the end cut, leaving about 3/4 of an inch on the surface, I plunge them to the back.  I do this with a heavy, antique needle threaded with a loop of strong carpet thread, and lasso the ends, pulling the loop gently around the waving ends, then quickly yank them to the back of the work. After I finish an area I bundle the plunged gold ends as neatly as I can, mostly trying to keep the resulting bits small and camouflaged as much as possible.  Note that on shortest line segments care must be taken when plunging NOT to end up pulling out one or both of the stitched down gold strands.  Much colorful language ensues when that happens…

How will you finish this piece off?

I really don’t know.  I don’t want to do a fabric scroll or hanging style finish on this one.  Although that would be congruent with the subject matter, I feel it would be too cliche, and take up too much space on the beach place wall where we intend to hang it.  Instead I may opt for a spare non-matted/no glass modern frame.  Possibly a near-invisible thin black one.  But in any case, I suspect I’ll splurge and have this one done by pros instead of my usual dinking around above my competence.

What’s next?

Not sure.  I still have a stitch-itch, although I have a couple of projects lined up to knit once fall weather kicks in.  Possibly a return to my big green sampler, now that I have a reliable stand for it.  Possibly a smaller something-else.

SLOW PROGRESS IS STILL PROGRESS

Inching along here on my fishies.  Yes, did end up getting the Lowery stand last week:

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I really like it and am glad I splurged when I did.  For those looking at the photo, trying to parse it out, the stand itself is the grey metal armature – from the heavy base plate, up to the gripper jaw holding on to the wooden cross piece, to which my stitching frame is attached.

The wooden piece with its grasping flanges that engage my frame is a supplemental purchase – the “Long Frame Extension.”  I strongly recommend it if you have a Millennium or other scrolling frame, especially if it’s large/heavy, or has wide bars.  Because the stand clamps down on the solid wood of the extension, I do not have to worry about overtensioning the jaws and harming the delicate stretcher arm, with its reamed out internal screw threads.

Now, as to actual progress, it’s been hot, and since I sit under a halogen work lamp, and we are not air-conditioning-enabled – I admit slacking off on most hot evenings.  In response to questions about my comfy chair, I post this photo, complete with orb-of-the-sun heat-source mini floor-lamp, Morris style recliner, and frame (supported by its new stand.)

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No, that’s not a real cat in the chair.  It’s a conveniently sized stuffed-toy cat, liberated from the kids’ collection.  It serves as a nice, soft supplemental elbow rest.  You can also see the embarrassing midden of supplies and in-progress projects, heaped into baskets between the chair and the bookcase, and the ever-encroaching box of on-deck items that is slowly taking over the small table.

The floor stand’s foot is tucked underneath my chair, with a couple of bricks on it for good measure.  The extra weight allows me to swing the frame out of my way like a door, so I can exit the chair without having to move the entire set-up, or shimmy under it.

Finally, here’s the paltry progress itself:

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I’ve added sequins to the previously un-sequined Fish #1, who was feeling very jealous of Fish #2’s bling.  The light is angled to make some of them sparkle, but there is a sequin in the center of each grid area in the body.  I’ve also made progress on the gold whorls.  Next are finishing the couched gold lines above Fish #1, doing the spot on his head, and starting on the whorls below him.  Eventually I will have to scroll up and down a tiny bit to access the remaining swirly bits at the very top and bottom of the piece.

And then I’ll be done.

Next project?  Not sure yet.  I have a couple in mind.  Possibly return to Big Green.  Possibly another smaller sampler.  Possibly a cushion to replace the stuffed cat.  Maybe playing with tambour and wool…  There’s no need to rush, I’ll be working finishing up my koi probably until September.

GOLD FISH!

After an annoying lapse of personal preparedness, I am now back from vacation – at home where I left my gold thread.  Sadly, no fish-stitching happened during my break because I was without it.

Goldwork is temperamental, exacting, and oh so rewarding.  I don’t pretend to be very good at it, especially compared to The Masters.  I bumble around at best.

I did play with metal thread embroidery decades ago, when I first encounted the SCA and began looking into historical styles.  I did couched work, direct embroidery with passing threads, and or nuée – a style that involves laying the gold threads across the entire width of the image-to-be, then overstitching it with colored threads to create pictures, almost in raster style, that glimmer as the gold peeks through.  But I had a goal back then – to advance embroidery in that organization, and all of these styles have a high learning curve.  Happily, I stumbled across blackwork – something that’s easy to learn and easy to teach.  I haven’t climbed back out of that hole in the years since.

Back to the project at hand – it’s clear that hooping over gold would destroy it, so for this phase of the work I have moved Two Fish to my flat frame.

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The rather unusual scrolling flat frame is a Millennium from Needle Needs in the UK.  It’s a bit on the pricey side, but worth every penny.   Although the design isn’t centered in this early fit, I do not think that the minor bit of scrolling I may have to do will damage the work – for example, there’s no point where I would have to lap stitched fabric entirely around the top and bottom bars.

It became evident very quickly that an extra hand would be needed to do this part of the project.  Or two.  So I hauled out my ancient Grip-It floor stand.  I prefer a side stand rather than a trestle or tilt-top support that sits in front of the worker, and but side-supports are hard to find.

Ancient Grip-It works ok, but its main two drawbacks are that is easily overbalanced by a large frame like this, even when front mounted; and that the jaw is wimpy and doesn’t hold very well – and at the same time, I am concerned about pressure it puts on the finely turned wood sidebars of the Millennium.  Here’s my sadly overmatched Grip-It in action on an earlier piece on this same frame.  You can almost hear the joints squeaking as it strains to keep itself upright. To be fair, since I sit in a Morris style chair as I work, the off side of the frame does get extra support from my left side chair arm.
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I’m on the hunt for a replacement floor stand, so if you have a candidate to recommend, feel free to post a comment.

As far as the stitching itself goes, I’ve begun.  Even with the floor stand, I find I need additional hands.

I want hand one to manage the stitch-down thread (one strand of gold-color silk floss, well waxed) poised on top of the work; one hand to receive the stitch-down thread’s needle below the work; one hand to provide gentle tension on the gold threads to keep them flat and even as I go along; and one hand to manage a laying tool to keep the two strands being couched in flat alignment to each other, and not crossing over each other. That’s two more hands than I currently have…

I can double up the stitch-down needle hand, stabbing the thing into the work on each stitch, then re-positioning the hand above or below and drawing the thread through the ground; but I haven’t found a graceful way to tension and direct the gold yet.  Since I haven’t worked this way in over 20 years, extensive re-training/re-familiarization is needed, and the going is slow but steady.

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THE AZEMMOUR CLUSTER

Thanks to Elaine, whose comment on the Spider Flower post sent me off on a new research quest, a group that had long intrigued me has now been solidly planted.

I had seen many examples of what appeared to be a related set of stitched fragments, from many museums, collected over many decades – mostly by amateurs in the late 1800s/early 1900s.  These were identifiable as being a group because of shared motifs, designs, treatments, materials and overall look.  But the museum IDs and book citations were all over the place, citing individual examples as being from anywhere from the Greek Islands, to Sicily, Northern Africa (unspecified), Spain, and the Italian mainland.  For example, all of the patterns on this page can be found in Lipperheide’s Muster altitalienischer Leinenstickrei, Volume 1, published in 1881, credited as Italian works.  Dates also ranged widely with some examples being attributed as early as the 1500s, and others tagged as late 1800s to early 1900s.  I do note however that comparing current tags to my old notes, over the last few years several museums have updated their provenance notations to locate this group in Azemmour, Morocco.

We’ve already seen the Spider Flower, this example from the Boston Museum of Fine Arts,  Accession 93.208. Again, their sample is undated, and is tagged as Spanish or North African, with a note that it is “Italian embroidery.”

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Here are some others of the same group.  This one I tag as the Pomegranate Meander, because the ornament on the diagonals has swollen into an enormous fruit, and the center flower has shrunk down to a skeletal remainder.  This sample is quoted from the Cleveland Museum of Art’s photo, and is tagged in their collection as being from Azemmur (an alternate spelling), 19th century, Accession 1929.843.

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Mr. Ross has provided us with a Pomegranate sample, too. This one is also at the MFA, Accession 11.2880, called out as Spanish or Eastern, with no date.

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Here’s a different member of this group. In my notes I tag it as Wide Snake Meander.  This one is from the musée du quai Branly, in Paris, Accession M61.2.16, and is attributed to 17th-18th century, from Azemmour.

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This design crops up not infrequently.  Here’s a sample from the MFA, Accession 93.1495, no date, with Spain as provenance.  Another piece collected my Mr. Ross – this is the MFA’s photo.

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And another, from TextilesAsArt.com, entry 2227, they call it out as being Moroccan from Azemmour, and date it to 1650.

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Here’s a sample of Wide Snakes that has a different border.  This photo is quoted from the dealer RugRabbit’s website.  They ID it as 17th century, Moroccan.

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From the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Accession 09.50.1291, now tagged as Moroccan from Azemmour, from the 18th century.

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Azemmour has a second style in addition to these pieces.  Birds.  Paired birds with and without vases or urns, or trees in between them are extremely well represented in museum and private collections.  Although paired birds are common in early modelbooks and in stitching examples throughout Europe, the Azemmour birds have a particular look, often done in two colors, with outlines in black and the voided ground in red.

Here is a particularly choice example from the Textile Museum of Canada, Accession T85.0301, dated to the 18th century (image quoted from their photo).

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Here’s a whole flock, including MFA 16.298 (Italian or Spanish, no date), Yale University Art Gallery 1941.278 (Azimoor (another alternate spelling), 1700s), Cooper-Hewitt 1970-0-1 (No provenance, late 19th century), Philadelphia Museum of Art’s 1919-686 (Azemmour, 17th century)  I’ve easily got two dozen more samples in my logs.  They still turn up fairly frequently for sale in textile specialty antiques houses and even on eBay.

And these same birds make appearances on darned net, this image is from a Gros & Delettrez, a dealer in antiquities, who call it out as being from Azemmour, made in the 1800s.

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Now.  Where did all of these come from?

I’ve read a few accounts that claim Jewish refugees fleeing the Reconquista and Inquisition in Spain settled in and around Azemmour.  It is speculated that their influence blended with the local Islamic stitching heritage, to create this local style family; one that is distinct from other Moroccan stitching styles.  The Jewish link is cited by The Textile Museum of Canada. The Jewish Virtual Library notes the migration and community.  The Jewish link is also mentioned here. The Textile Research Centre writes that production of Azemmour pieces died out in the mid 1900s, although recent revivals have been undertaken.

Finally, to muddy the waters further, here is an artifact that might be seen as a bridge between European/Italian voided work, and the voided work done in Azemmour.  This is a strip in the collection of the Cooper-Hewitt Museum Accession 1962-58-17, attributed to 16th century Italy, and the image below is quoted from their photo.  Yes, the foreground of the motifs are left quite bare compared to the ornamented Moroccan samples.  But look at that design.  Does it remind you of both Spider Flower and Pomegranate Meander?   It should…

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