OK. Now that I’ve armed a whole bunch of people with a wealth of counted all-over designs – what to do with them?
Pretty much anything you want. While samplers are the most common, there are lots and lots of things you can make that don’t involve using up precious wall space. Pincushions (either plain square or rectangular pillows, or fancy biscornu); pillow or cushion covers; napkins, doilies, and tablecloths; kerchiefs (aka for the historically-minded – forehead cloths); tray or coaster inserts (using pre-made items intended to showcase a piece of stitching or painting); zip or tied pouches or folios of various types – jewelry or lingerie rolls are examples; slip-in cases for sunglasses, phones, or tablet devices; small rice or lentil-filled handwarmers or heating pad pillows (warmed in the microwave, for gentle comfort or cold fingers); greeting cards or festive ornaments; all are examples of things that might sport your stitching.
But I want to revisit one project in particular – the book cover.
Making a Slip Cover for a Small Notebook
This is a general logic recipe for making a reusable slip cover in for a small notebook, using the same method as the standard brown-paper-bag covers kids of earlier eras employed to protect school-issued textbooks. The basic logic can be adapted to cover any size book. I’ve written this with special steps for counted embroidery project, but any fabric or stitching style can be used.
In this particular case I covered two small pocket notebooks, roughly equivalent in size to Moleskines, but of a far less expensive make. They are about 3.5 inches wide, by 5.5 inches tall, and roughly 0.5 inches thick across the spine (about 8.9 x 13.4 x 1.3 cm). They came with an elastic cord to keep them closed/mark one’s place, and were about half as expensive as the fancy name brand ones.
I wanted to know how big a piece of fabric I would need. Having measured a notebook, I did a mockup of the cover, drawing the shapes to size on a piece of paper to make my pattern. I used a brown paper grocery bag to do my layout and mockup (fitting it onto my target notebook to make sure it all worked. That pattern is now long gone, but here’s the logic I used. I strongly suggest making a mock-up and “dry fitting” it before you begin the project, just to make sure that the dimensions work. Note that some books have thicker cardboard covers or heavier spines than others, and may require a bit more “wiggle room” to be added to the measurements below – even if the books have the same general dimensions as the ones I used. If your book is significantly larger than mine you may want to increase the depth of the flaps all the way around. But you should not need to add more than the indicated amount beyond the stitching area (the red rectangle below). The overage of the grey area is just there to provide purchase for a hoop or frame.
Note that I’ve allowed a little bit of extra width for the spine, so that there is enough slack for the book to open and close properly. I’ve also allowed lots of extra room around the stitching area, to accommodate use of my hoop or snap frame. You can use a smaller piece of cloth closer to the dimensions of the book cover itself if you like, but be aware that frequent repositioning of the hoop to get close to the edges is a pain in the neck, and all of that tugging and yanking isn’t good for your threads or ground either. And if you’re mounting this on a flat or scrolling frame, tensioning the sides and ends very close to the stitching area can lead to distortion, so having a bit of extra room for the stress to even out is also good.
For my standard size pocket mini-notebook, I’ll need a piece of ground fabric that’s about 13.25 x 11 inches (33.7 x 27.9 cm – all metric measurements are rounded off). If I intended to hem my edges of my entire ground cloth prior to starting (as opposed to whipping or serging), I’d add a half inch all the way around to this measurement.
Selecting the Fabric
What type of fabric? Well, whatever you enjoy working. This project will be a tiny bit easier to lay out on even weave, but not overly so. You can use Aida, Monk’s Cloth, Fiddler’s Cloth, Hardanger, in whatever count is most comfortable. But the count you select will also be key for what design you select. The lower the count (fewer stitches per inch), the larger your finished iteration of the design will be and the fewer repeats of it will fit in these designated spaces. If for example you want to stitch 11 count Aida, our front cover – only 3.5 inches wide would mean your total stitching area is about 38 stitches wide (rounding down). A repeat of say 8 stitches across would appear 4 full times plus some fragment at left and right (more on this later). A repeat that’s 14 stitches across would show in full only twice, with a fragment at the left and right sides.
Why would layout be easier to do on even weave as opposed to Aida or one of the others? Because you can determine the center point more accurately on even weave. In one of the purpose woven grounds with their well established holes (and especially in the fewer-stitches-per-inch sizes), the centermost line of holes may be off the exact center of the piece just a teensy bit, and may be enough to annoy you.
One last suggestion – whip, or serge your edges after you cut your fabric to size. Some people use tape. I don’t recommend it because of the adhesive residue.
Marking the Fabric
In this type of project, where we don’t intend to graph out every single stitch beforehand, knowing where the edges and center lines are is very important. Some people use water soluble markers or pencils for this. I’m old fashioned. I would baste. Some people are very specific in technique, taking each basting stitch over 4 or 5 stitch equivalents to aid in counting, but I’m pretty haphazard. I just establish my lines and don’t try to make my basting stitches even.
To transfer the dimensions of the diagram above to my cloth, I’d start more or less in the center and measure out from there, basting in lines, probably in a couple of colors. I use plain old sewing thread; spools of thread inherited from my grandmother – 100% cotton, in pale pastels, too fragile for use in seaming, but perfect for this. I’d outline my stitching fields using one color (the heavy red lines on the diagram). Then I’d mark the center lines both north/south and east/west (the thin blue lines). You may find that you have either a line of holes or a full stitch at the very center of your front cover, back cover, and spine. Decide now if you are a perfectionist or not, and if your purpose woven cloth forces you to mark at one side or the other of any center column/row of stitches, which side of the center you have marked. More on this below.
There’s no strong reason to mark the no-sew flap areas at this point, but they are on the diagram so you know they exist, and their width should not be forgotten.
Choosing your Design
Elsewhere on the site you’ll find books and books of fills and other patterns. Thumb through. Pick something that appeals to you, that’s a good fit for your chosen ground fabric’s count. BUT also be aware of the Center Problem.
Some patterns have a specific center line. They have even repeats – 4 stitches, 8 stitches, 22 stitches – whatever. Each repeat is an EVEN number of stitches. These repeats mirror evenly left and right of an line. Other designs have ODD numbers of stitches in one repeat – 5 stitches, 9 stitches, 11 stitches – again any number but an ODD one. That means that there is a center stitch in these designs. Here are examples:
The wavy plumes (shown in two variants) are an EVEN 14-stitch repeat with a specific center line. The framed pears is an ODD 15-stitch repeat. It’s center is the X unit where the four pear stems meet.
Why does this matter? If you are a perfectionist using Aida (see above) and the center of your area to be stitched is in the middle in between two columns of holes, look for an ODD stitch repeat. If the center of those areas work out neatly to align with a column of holes pick an EVEN stitch repeat.
Now you know why I mentioned that layout on even weave is easier. Not being forced into using specific hole locations makes fudging that center line easier and if your heart is drawn to either an odd or even repeat, any finagling you might do to make placement will be less obvious.
Choosing Thread and Stitching
Here I am of less help, especially for folk using Aida. I can tell you that on 32-38 count linen (16-19 stitches per inch) I usually use one or two plies of silk or cotton floss. 40-50 count linen (20-25 stitches per inch), I use one ply. And that I run the thread through beeswax prior to stitching. If you are using a lower count ground I’m afraid you’ll have to experiment to see whether you like 1, 2 or 3 plies the best.
In any case, no matter what your ground is, your basted lines will tell you exactly where the center of your area to be stitched is. Find the center of your chosen pattern, and start from there. Double running or back stitch – even heresy stitch – it doesn’t matter. Start in the center and work your way out. You can choose to work the ENTIRE stitched area – front cover, spine and back cover as one unit, and start in the center of the spine. Or you can work the front and back covers either identically or different; and leave the spine unworked, or treat it in another manner (perhaps a narrow border, solidly covered with cross stitches, or anything else you dream up). There is no wrong here.
When you get close to the basting line that describes the edge of the section you are working on pause. Decide whether you want to continue the design right up to the edge, or if you want to stop (possibly at the natural edge of your repeat, or at some unobtrusive place in it) and save the remaining area to do a border. That’s what I decided to do on my two sample books above. Any narrow geometric band – even just parallel straight lines – can be used to frame the center design and draw the eye away from truncation of the center design.
Finishing the Piece and Assembly
Once everything is all stitched, you can do a gentle wash and iron (nothing with big agitation, harsh detergent, or high heat). Or not. It’s up to you. Now is the time to draw or baste-mark those extra flaps. If you are going to serge them you can mark them and cut to exact size. Note that the ONLY places where secure edge treatment is mandatory are shown in green below. I strongly recommend hemming for those, although serging will work in a pinch. The other edges can be fray check secured or even left plain (they’ll never see the light of day again). Personally, I mark the flaps, and cut leaving a quarter inch seam allowance for the green bits that I turn back and hem, doing a veeerrrryyyy careful diagonal cut at the corner where the front and back inner flaps meet the top and bottom flaps. When I turn back the outer points of the front and back inner flaps and hem them down, I cut off the triangular excess to reduce bulk.
The top and bottom flaps do not need to be stitched down. Ironing them flat is enough. The final step is folding in the back and front inner flaps and stitching them to the front and back, along the edges of the book. This leaves a neatly edged pocket that will slide over the book cover. If the book cover doesn’t fit, feel free to snip it just a bit so that it slides in nicely. No one will ever know.
One last refinement. Many of these books come with an elastic loop that can be used to hold the book closed or mark a page. It’s useless in this application. I snip it off the book prior to fitting the cover. Instead, to serve as a bookmark, I stitch on a length of narrow ribbon, attaching it at the little red dot marked on the diagram above.
OK. Now armed with the basic how-to. Let’s see what you can come up with yourself!
OK. Here’s the post folks have asked for. Warning. It’s long.
I don’t claim this to be totally inclusive (I’m always stumbling across new-to-me things as I browse museum on-line photo collections), but it’s a start. Feel free to comment with additional examples.
There’s been lively discussion on what stitches and techniques were used for the backgrounds of voided works. I’m going to try to present as many examples as I can.
To start – voided pieces are a family of works that feature a more or less uniform background treatment that leaves the main design of the piece plain (or minimally worked. It results in a visual “reverse silhouette” look. There are many manifestations of this aesthetic over time. One widely known subset is Assisi work – a simplified but charming 19th century revival inspired by earlier Renaissance era embroideries. The revival used cross stitch (aka “plain old cross stitch” or POCS) ornamented by back or double running stitches. Earlier styles were more varied.
One of the most common treatments was a tightly pulled four-sided stitch, worked to completely cover the threads of the woven ground. None of the ground threads were cut – they were just bundled together, making an extremely durable net-like texture. How do I know it’s durable? I’ve stitched some, made a mistake, and found it absolutely impossible to rip back or deconstruct (perhaps that’s why so many fragments of it exist, even after the towels, pillowcases and other linen they adorned have frayed to death).
The border above is in the Art Institute of Chicago (accession 1896.112, and is attributed to Italy, in the early 1600s. I believe the outlines were established first, in either double running or back stitch, and then the background was filled in, working right up to and in some cases, encroaching on those outlines. Close examination of the photo where the outlines are broken shows no cut ground threads, just distortion. The “wing shapes” in the connecting meandering branches are very amusing to me. I know from experience that working in closed areas is challenging. it looks like the stitcher saved some time and effort by drawing a diagonal between the bud and the side sprig on the branch, and just not filling in between them.
Here’s another example, Italian, but undated, resident in the Harvard Art Museum collection (accession 1916.388). Also outlined with the meshy stitch worked up to the outlines. Note that companion edging though. I can’t tell for sure, but the branches that little leaves grow on at least may be cross stitches. Not sure about the leaves themselves. On this one it’s very clear that the ground cloth threads are bundled, not cut.
Here is a variant – a similar tightly stitched mesh, over a somewhat coarser linen ground, BUT in this case the stitcher did NOT establish an outline and then fill in the background. The piece is most definitely done on the count (not on a freehand outline), but the only stitching that established the motifs is the background mesh. This bit is also from the Cooper Hewitt (accession 1946-42-9a), dated 17th century, but has no posted place of origin. One other thing to note is a bit of directionality in the mesh. Mesh can be worked either on the diagonal or back and forth across succeeding rows. In this case the stitcher did the latter. But it’s NOT long armed cross stitch. It’s still the tightly overworked mesh.
This variant of meshy was done by someone who didn’t encroach on the established outlines. Instead this stitcher left a “halo” of unworked ground around the foreground motifs. There is no companion line on the outer edge of the halo area – the mesh stitch simply starts. I’ve mentioned this piece before in my series on long-lost siblings, and it’s in the Harvard Art Museum (accession 1916.377), but bears no date or location notes.
Here’s a piece that the holding institution claims was done by withdrawing threads, but the detail photo at left (a section where the red stitching has been lost) clearly shows the distortion of groups of 3×3 threads, with no snips or darns. I maintain that this is the pulled meshy stitch, too. Another Cooper-Hewitt sample (accession 1971-50-90), Italian from the 1500s. Love that needle lace edging detail, too!
Cut and Withdrawn/Overstitched Mesh
What about withdrawn thread work, where threads are snipped or turned back and the edges secured, with the remaining scaffolding overstitched to make a meshy background? I’m pretty sure it exists, but I need to find a well documented and clearly photographed sample that explicitly shows the snipped rather than distorted threads of the ground fabric’s weave. Have a reference? Feel free to share it in the comments. If a good one shows up I’ll edit this and include a cut thread heading and photo here.
Long Armed Cross Stitch (LACS)
Another popular ground treatment was long-armed cross stitch. This produces a distinctive almost braided texture when worked back and forth across the piece. The piece below is in the Cooper-Hewitt (accession 1971-50-100 ), with a provenance of Spain, of the 16th-17th century. Again the main design is outlined with back or double running stitch, and the background is filled in later. Note that the stitcher kludged this a bit where the rows of LACS meet up with angles, and that POCS is used for edge ornamentation.
But again, working with an linear outline is not mandatory. Here’s a jaunty falconer on his mount. He is also worked in LACS, but without the double running or back stitch outline, in spite of the complexity of the design. And yes, there ARE some plain old cross stitch bits in there. Much of the surface detail in the otherwise unworked foreground areas are done in POCS. I’d even entertain an argument that outlining was also done in POCS, but is mostly disguised by encroachment of the background LACS. However, the bulk of the background is clearly LACS. You can find this piece in the Cooper-Hewitt (accession 1904-17-4), dated to the 17th century, no provenance. I do wonder about the dating though. The design seems a bit “modern-revival” to me, unless there was a nostalgia movement in the 1600s that presented folk in “antique dress.” Also that cross stitch for outlining thing is very, very rare. (I’ll wait for the experts on dating to chime in on this one.)
More long-armed cross stitch – but more tightly pulled. It’s not true meshy – the plaited like texture and 1×2 crossings are still evident. This time with outlines. In green. This Italian piece is from The Art Institute of Chicago (accession 1937.779), and is dated from 1500s/1600s or so.
Another one just for fun. Clearly LACS-like, and you can make out that 1×2 cross on the very uniform top legs. From the uniformity of those legs I think that this piece was not worked in stitch-by-stitch mode (the standard way of working LACS, but as an entire row, with the stitcher first laying down the “short legs” and then covering them by a second pass working just the “long legs” in the opposite direction. This supposition is borne out by the way the successive rows cross. Note that there has been absolutely no effort to keep the successive rows of LACS either alternating left to right as is done when it’s worked in the usual manner, or all aligning in the same direction. Instead the rows “bounce” when they encounter an obstruction, and do so in a way that’s congruent with the in-two-passes approach. Obviously this one has outlining done in a different color, and the ground done in a very atypical yellow. Sprightly, even with the massive loss of the now blue/green thread. It’s from the Cooper-Hewitt collection (accession 1971-50-77), and dated to the 1500s (no provenance.)
There are a few pieces that use an effective but simple fill. The final appearance is that of boxes. The samples I have seen have all been double-sided, and from the pattern produced by unevenly dyed or faded threads, I suspect most of them were worked in double running on the diagonal. No proof though without picking one out, and that would be heresy. This piece is from the Philadelphia Museum (accession 1894-30-116). It’s Italian, of the late 1500s. In addition to the boxed fill the foreground is ornamented with cutwork, which makes it a double-curiosity. On some of these the outlines of the motifs are also done in double running. In others, in back stitch (or possibly very neatly done outline/stem stitch), so that the reverse presents a heavier line defining them. Whether or not those who first used these considered the heavier outlined side the public side is something we may never know.
Here’s the most well known sample of the boxed substyle – the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s apron (accession 38.19.8) – Italian, 16th-17th century. This one doesn’t use outlines to define the motifs. The edges of the box ground units themselves define the edges of the foreground motif.
Here’s another example of the squared filling style (with outlines). This piece is from Musées Royaux d’Art et d’Histoire, in Brussels (accession T.1578), and is dated to the 1500s. It combines variants of two of my favorite designs, the “lettuce” pattern on the left, and another that shows up again and again on the right. Both of these designs turn up in other voided and un-voided presentations, with meshy or LACS as the ground treatment. Or none at all. Variants of these two will be in my ever forthcoming book.
Plain Old Cross Stitch (POCS)
Yup. You had to peek to see what I would say here. Sadly, although I’ve examined hundreds of samples of voided pieces, I have found none with a ground worked in plain cross stitch until the mid/late 19th century revival of that style. That doesn’t mean there aren’t any – just that I haven’t stumbled across them yet. Got one? Feel free to send the reference to me. I’d love to find one and add it to the greater family.
But here’s a prime example of the most complex end of the revived style. These two designs have clear Renaissance era precursors (well, close at least – maybe not exact pedigrees), but are rendered using POCS, with and without linear outlines. This is from The Antique Pattern Library’s copy of Album des Broideries au Point de Croix, compiled by Therese de Dillmont, probably an edition of the 1880s,
Other Modern Treatments
I can cite no historical precedent for these treatments – I admit, I was just riffing on the squared box theme. But they do work and are interesting. These are my own: diagonals, diamonds, and steps. I like the mirroring on the diagonals in the top sample, the second one has all of the diagonals going in the same direction for the entire strip. All of these are worked on designs for which I have citations, and that have or will appear in my books.
I’ve long struggled with how to render a heraldic rose in a linear charting. Because of the angles involved in five-fold symmetry, it does not lend itself cleanly to the 45°, 90°, 180° schema that I have found to be almost exclusively used in historical counted styles. (In fact, the only exception to the 45-90-180 rule I’ve seen are designs that include an “eyelet” – where stitches are taken around the periphery of a small area, with one terminus in that circle or square’s center – and those are quite rare.) To manage the angles properly under this constraint would necessitate a very large chart, so that the angles could be fudged slowly over long runs.
But many people over the years have asked about a SMALL graphed-up rose. And just this week I had an extra incentive to work one up.
Duchess Kiena of the East Kingdom (an SCA branch centered on the upper northeast coastal region of the US, and into adjacent areas of Canada) has been doodling up roses as visual gifts/potential ornamental badges for her fellow members of the Order of the Rose (former consorts/co-regnants of those who have won the Eastern Crown.) Her roses are a joy – simple and adorable. Here’s the one she did for me – echoic of my own black rose:
She’s done an entire garden of these so far. They are sweet, and have been adopted by some the recipients for use as avatars on social media. I wanted to return a gift in kind. I also know that some folks may want to embroider these roses, either for themselves or as a gift, so I doodled up a graph based on Kiena’s original outlines.
Note that it includes non-standard “Knights Move” stitches, taken over 2 x 1 units. I’ve marked those in red as an aid to navigation. Not strictly historical, I know, but effective at this small scale.
Feel free to use this as you will. Fills are limited only by your own imagination – the counted/damask fills of blackwork, satin stitch, split stitch or chain, applique, beading – anything goes. Enjoy, and feel free to share your results.
Satin stitch (for me at least) is sllloooowwwww. Especially compared with double running. Even though I am not working the satin stitch on count, the degree of precision needed to do the gold, cranberry, and white bits is even greater than the counted green outlines.
That said, progress is being made:
This is the center of the piece. I’m not entirely happy with every leaf or bud part done in satin, but I am not at this point going to go back and take anything out. What is, is. And for the record, as wobbly and multi-directional as my stitching is, that on the historical piece I have used as my inspiration is about as weak as mine.
But am learning as I go, and things are evening out a mite.
First was finding a better needle. It was pretty clear that the blunt tip/small eyed needles I favor for the outlines are not optimal for satin stitch. First, the eye that’s good for two strands of well-waxed floss is too small for three strands of unwaxed. And that rounded point, so well suited for slipping between threads for double running, is useless for piercing ground cloth threads to make nice, neat satin edges – even if those edges are partially “buried” underneath the outlines. I am not sure what size needle I am using (I pulled it from among a bunch of loose ones in my needle case), but it’s a standard larger eye embroidery sharp – not a tapestry needle.
Second was better threading. I am spoiled by waxing the living daylights out of my double running threads. Even if the two strands I use for the outlines require a tiny snip to get a good “point”, waxing guarantees a stiff, thin, easy to mount threading end. Not so the loose flossy strands of this ultra skinny silky stuff, used in threes or fours unwaxed for the satin stitching. They are unruly, prone to separating, fluffing out at the cut end, and otherwise uncooperative. Sometimes in a fit of desperation, I do wax the last half inch, but I prefer not to do that because the wax does drag off and mat down the rest of the strand. So I went looking for needle threaders to help. Thanks to Mary Corbet’s blog, I found some nifty tools, one of which I didn’t know I needed.
To start with, prior to making any purchases, I wanted to corral my needles, because for the first time ever, I was using multiple needle types on the same piece, and the pincushion at my elbow kept skittering off. I rummaged through my box of Useful Things, and came up with two flat rare earth magnets – formerly the insides of two heavy duty magnetic hooks. I’d saved them when the hook parts died. I glued them onto the verticals of my Millenium, in the corners. That worked nicely to keep my needles at hand, yet out of the way.
Now came threading. Obviously a needle threader would be required to cut down on my swearing and frustration. Mary had recommended some from Puffin. I liked the look of them from the structural standpoint, with flat hook style business ends, and not wire loops. So I ordered two in whimsical shapes vaguely reminiscent of Elizabethan coif motifs. One regular size, one small.
The snail with the larger hook works like a dream with the standard larger-eye embroidery needle. The bee with the little stinger surprised me by actually working with my tiny-eye ball-tip needles. Both are magnet-enabled, and now perch on the magnet I glued onto my frame.
And the needles they displaced? This is the thing I didn’t know I needed. Looking back, I could have done something similar with my two plain recycled magnets, but I never thought of it…
I got one of the Puffin needle-keepers.
This is the pretty side of the thing. It is also magnet-enabled, and the two magnets are quite strong. So strong in fact that they grasp and hold together not only through my cloth, but also through multiple folds of my pattern page printouts. So my design pages now sit neatly next to the area being stitched – not on a separate stand, or balanced awkwardly on a cushion nearby. My alternate needles are firmly fixed in place on the flower’s center, while my needle minder does its double-duty holding the pattern.
Here you see the corner of my frame in its stand-clamp, showing off the needle minder (left), and the glued-on magnet with both threaders (right). Everything to hand.
Please note I accept no freebies and make no endorsement deals. And since I don’t indulge myself often, tiny advances in kit are really special.
I’m a happy camper, even in the face of all that satin stitching. Bravo, Puffin! Useful tools, nicely made.
Questions about my current project are popping in. I’ll try to answer the ones so far. Feel free to send more.
First, a progress shot:
As you can see, I’ve established the border on the second long side of the piece. I still have not decided on whether or not there will be wide borders along the short sides. That decision probably won’t occur until I have to advance the piece on the rollers of my roller frame. Right now the ground cloth’s center is (more or less) at the center of the exposed working area.
On to the questions.
How do you get the design onto the fabric?
I don’t. This is a counted style. I have a paper pattern that shows my repeat, graphed up into a grid. I look at that, then replicate the design on my cloth, using each group of 2×2 threads as my graph grid. It’s just a matter of looking left, seeing “Five stitches in line straight, then one diagonal to the left, then three straight left,” and stitching it.
As I work I constantly check back and forth to make sure that the newly stitched pieces are on target – true to the count of the design. To do that I tend not to work out on a long lead. I try to work adjacent areas so I can check them against each other as I go. For example on this design, I’ll confirm that the ed
My teacher told me that I always need to baste in an even grid before I start a large charted project. Why haven’t you done that?
Because I don’t need to. I do have basted lines that indicate the edges and center point of the area I will be stitching, but I tease them out and clip them as I go along to keep them out of my way. I’ve never used a fully gridded ground with guidelines basted in every ten or twenty stitches apart. I’m comfortable working that way, although I know that others need more alignment aids than I do.
Will you be making this available as a chart or kit?
Not as such. This leafy design will be included in my (ever) forthcoming book, The Second Carolingian Modelbook. (News of that book’s publication will be here on String first). But I won’t be issuing a project chart or kit for this piece.
What thread are you using?
I’m using the vintage “art silk” floss I bought in India. I wish it were real silk, but we do with what we have. One nice thing about it – it’s very fine, and presents much like finger spun if stitched closely.
For the green double-running stitch, I am using two strands of this floss, heavily waxed. For the satin stitch, I am using three strands, unwaxed. The stuff is a bit unruly, and keeping the satin stitch even and smooth is much harder than establishing the design in double running.
What’s the count of your ground?
It’s an 40-count evenweave 100% linen, stash aged. I’m not sure where/when I got it, but I dug it out from the bottom of the pile, so it wasn’t a recent purchase. I’m working over 2×2 threads, so that works out to about 20 stitches per inch. But I think there’s a minute variance in count north-south vs. east-west, so it’s probably more like 20 spi x 19.5 spi.
What will this be when you are done?
A monument to the time it took to stitch.
Seriously, while I had originally thought it would make a nifty pillow for our sofa, complementing the room’s colors and being a different finishing treatment from yet-another-wall-hanging. However, I’ve decided against that. The art silk in satin stitch is too friable, prone to snags and catches. The thought of throwing myself on the sofa and having the rivets of my jeans play havoc with those shiny, smooth bits is a harsh reality check. This will probably end up on my walls, like so many of my other pieces.
Another in my occasional series of posts only a stitching nerd will love.
This base design I present here is among the patterns that have long fascinated me. It comes from a time of political and religious conflict, and exists in two versions – one with a devotional inscription, and one plain – with the motto removed.
It’s pretty widespread as pattern books go, appearing in several. There is also at least one actual stitched artifact of it in one of its variants
First, to look at the pattern as (and where) it was published.
All three modelbook pages of this first group are quoted from Mistress Kathryn Goodwyn’s most excellent Flowers of the Needle collection of modelbook redactions. It’s pretty obvious that the 1537 Zoppino (Venice) and 1567 Ostaeus (Rome) versions were both printed from the same block – the same pattern errors exist on both impressions.
Now for the third – this one was published in 1546, in a book attributed to Domenico daSera, who worked in Lyons, France.
It’s clearly the same design, but carved anew into a different block. The framing mechanism of the twisted columns and chains remains, as does the frondy onion-shaped center motif and the majority of its details. More or less. Obviously the religious motif is new, as is the inclusion of more prominent crosses. But the design is still recognizable.
Going back and forth in time, here’s that same Zoppino block, from his Convivo delle Belle Donne, from August 1532, courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art (Accession 22.66.6) This is the earliest hard-dated rendition of this design that I know of.
It’s also interesting to note that the same block was collected into Hippolyte Cocheris’ 1872 collection Patrons de Broderie et de lingerie du XVIe Siecle which is itself a reprint of several 16th century works. I suspect that a different block may have been involved, because although the copy is almost perfect there are minute mistakes on the Zoppino original that are not replicated in this iteration.
And on to artifacts.
First, here is a clear rendition of the da Sera devotional version. The picture below is shamelessly lifted from the Harvard Art Museum’s holdings page, of their object accession number 1916.379, cited as Italian, but not dated.
Note that the inscriptions switch direction, and not necessarily in a logical manner. I strongly suspect that the stitching is truly double-sided, and the intent was to produce something that could be read from both sides. Either that or the embroiderer was quite forgetful, and neglected to keep track of the front and back. Once the error was established, he or she just kept going.
As an aside, the edging is from Jean Troveon’s 1533 work, Patrons de diverse manieres. It’s also in his other work, La fleur des patrons de lingerie (dated 1533 at the latest) , which we will see again in a moment.
Headed a bit further afield is this example is a first cousin of the design above. The sample below is from the Boston Museum of Fine Arts. It’s got many of the same design elements, but they’ve been simplified and abstracted. We’ve lost the twisty columns, but kept the chain dividers, and the center foliage/flower has been much simplified. This piece is dated to the 16th century, as Italian. MFA Accession 90.50. It’s one of the pieces labeled with the mystery technique “Punto di Milano” which in this case looks like tightly overstitched Italian four-sided stitch, pulled to achieve a meshy look. Oh, with cross stitch accents.
But did someone take the twisty columns design and adapt it? Nope.
Troveon, in La fleur des patrons de lingerie has this one, with the minor exception of using initials in the shields instead of the anonymous sunbursts.
And what else shall we find in Troveon’s soft-dated work? Our old friend, (which based on a close look at block mistakes, I can’t for certain cite as the Hippolyte source.)
Now. We have a few questions.
- How did the border design that appears only a few pages away from the secular version of this design, in the Troveon book get paired with the devotional main motif from daSera?
- Which plate came first? Troveon’s not-dated-in-stone version (1533 latest), or the Zoppino from 1532? Are they printed from the same block or not?
- Why did the design exist and circulate in the two forms?
The places where the secular version appears (Rome, and Venice) were not break-away hotbeds of Protestantism. I would have thought given the tenor of the times (which included the destruction of vast amounts of religious embroidery) the secular version would have been found in the religiously rebellious areas. When I started looking into this my suspicion was that having two versions of this design was an early example of targeted marketing – selling what would appeal to a local demographic. But I can’t substantiate that theory based on place of publication.
The relative order of publication? Again, I can’t hazard a guess. Unless the Bibliothèque Nationale de France refines its listing (or another hard-dated copy of the work surfaces) we are stuck with the uncertainty.
So your guesses are as good as mine. Yet more topics I offer up to anyone doing gradate research in historical embroidery.
Oh. One final aside. Both the secular version of this design and the border from Troveon are graphed up in my first collection The New Carolingian Modelbook.
I did not plan to stitch this piece of crimson and gold leaves as a tribute to Fall, but it’s starting to look that way.
I’m munching along on both the repeat and the border. But being a tad lazy, I’ve been concentrating on the easy-to-do double running, and not on the high-concentration-to-achieve satin stitch. (I envy those who walk through satin stitch and make it look so simple).
This segment is about 65% as wide as the finished piece will be. The center diagonal branches will stretch a bit further to the left, possibly one or one and a half more iterations of the repeat. There will also be a companion border on that edge. I am still deciding whether or not I will add borders to the ends now captive on my frame’s rollers, or whether I will just finish out the design either truncated, or with the narrow diagonal trim, but without the accompanying outer leaves. Lots depends on what this will end up being. That decision is also still up in the air. Pillow? Framed piece? Soft-finished scroll hanging? I haven’t a clue. Not yet, anyway.
In any case, the double running is not presenting a problem. The design is pretty straightforward. Each side of the branch is its own baseline. The only tricky bit is placing the branch sides at the right spot. To do that, I have been using a point where the leaves approach each other closest. That’s the spot with the little “thumb” that sticks out and waves at its counterpart.
I work the next branch side by counting over from the established bit, then proofing my work as I go against other previously stitched areas. Yes, I do make mistakes, but by and large, once I have the pattern down – in this case mostly memorized after so many repeats, counting mistakes are rare.
Much more common is an annoyance of working with one hand in front and the other behind, and blind. Try as I may, I still catch and stitch through my working thread as I push the needle back up from the unseen side to the front. While waxing does help a bit for the double running sections, I still have to stop and de-tangle my stitching thread, often sacrificing a bit to the resulting fray. And it’s worse for the satin stitch areas because those can’t be waxed at all. Not and preserve that lovely sheen.
Since I have only a limited quantity of the thread I am using – more of the vintage “art silk” I bought in India – every inch lost to fraying is heartbreaking. In fact I am working compartmentalized so that I can terminate early, just in case running out of thread becomes all too real.
I continue on the Italian Renaissance leafy multicolor piece.
The skewed weave you may see is an artifact of image compression, and is not indicative of the appearance of the ground cloth.
Originally I had thought to do yet another sampler cloth, with lots of designs grouped rather willy-nilly, but I have changed my mind. The look of this particular ground is so striking that I want to do a larger example of it. I also have a companion edging for this all-over that I’m itching to apply. Right now I’m leaning towards a large rectangular piece, surrounded by that edging, possibly using some surface work in gold thread for added bling. I’m not sure what the finish will be, but I am considering making this into a pillow, which is one of the possible original uses for a design of this type.
Along the way I am re-learning the delights of Satin Stitch. It never was one of my faves, but the play of light using the faux silk thread can’t be beat. The deep green I’m using for the counted outlines in double running is waxed, but the satin stitch in-fillings are not in order to maximize sheen. And no – I’m not going to stitch every area in every leaf. I’m going to leave the piece partially filled in as it is above. That’s more or less along the lines of the original, but possibly leaving a bit more unfilled. The decision on working the red on the other half of each large leaf is still being made. On one hand it would look interesting, but on the other hand, so much red would overpower the rest of the stitching. Opinions are solicited here.
I’ve also learned the hard way how NOT to handle the multicolor fill on the branch. Originally I had done it as multiple rows of one-unit tall satin stitch, vertically. That broke up the color too much, so I picked that out and re-did it wider, but with the color broken up by the little bits of cross hatching on the sides of the stem. I am not entirely pleased, in part due to clumsy execution of the first. Working that bit horizontally is right out, both for fidelity to the original reasons, and due to the breadth and spread of those areas. I may need to explore threading my satin stitches underneath some of the crosshatches. Or just learning to do them more neatly…
The current plan is to work up the rest of the area inside this hoop, and then transfer the piece to my big flat frame. The thought of hooping over all that satin stitch brings the visceral feel of fingernails on a chalk board.
OK. Fresh off Cupids, I begin another haphazardly planned piece. As I start this write-up, I have no clear idea as to what I might be doing. But I do know how to start.
I’ve taken a piece of linen from my stash – it’s probably around 40 tpi – and I’ve hemmed it on three sides. The last side is selvedge and I am lazy.
I have also used regular sewing thread to mark out my absolute edges, and the centerlines. I hesitate to say horizontal and vertical because at this point I am not sure which orientation I will use. Note that I have not gridded the entire piece, nor are my basted guidelines done on any sort of regular count (other than following a specific line across the entire cloth).
Now on to think about threads. I’m tired of the DMC cotton I’ve been using. I still have some significant quantities of the faux silk I bought in India. My color selection is more limited, but there are several that remain in multi skein hanks. I’ve picked out some of these in deep forest, a burgundy, a gold, and an off-white/silvery. Polychrome!
Now on to the design itself. And observations on a design cluster.
I’m basing this one (at least in part) on an artifact on the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Accession 1894-30-114. The image below is cribbed from their site.
It’s a curious piece, not only because of the use of multicolors, but also because of the clearly counted linear outlines plus the satin stitch fills. Here’s my color-change start:
I haven’t done one of these multicolor, filled pieces yet, and I’m interested to see how I can gild this particular lily. In true bungee-jump stitching style I am not sure if I will fill out the entire cloth with this design, or if I will just do it as a center, then edge it around with other concoctions. Time (and thread availability) will tell.
Now as to why I think this one is part of a design cluster.
While I note that the dating for the Philadelphia Museum snippet is a bit odd (they claim 14th century, which to me is way too early), this piece has significant family resemblance to several other artifacts. One is the center panel of my Stupid Cupid sampler. Both it and the one I’m working now will be in The Second Carolingian Modelbook.
Here’s another sample of a similar design. This bit is from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Accession 79.1.14, along with my stitched rendition of the a very similar design as presented in Pauline Johnstone’s Three Hundred Years of Embroidery, Wakefield Press, 1986, on page 17. My bit is in red at the right. I included the chart for my version in The New Carolingian Modelbook.
UPDATE: The sample in Ms. Johnstone’s book (shown below) is a holding of the Embroiderer’s Guild, #5376. It looks like it and the Met fragments are more long-lost siblings. It’s stitch for stitch identical in every detail to the Met piece.
We have a clear provenance with the Jewish Museum’s piece. It’s dated with a reference to the Jewish calendar year 5343, which puts it at 1582/1583 on the standard Western calendar, and it’s from a congregation in Rome. The lady Honorata Foa either commissioned it or made it herself for donation to that congregation. I’ve written about it before.
The Met’s sample is “Italian, 16th century” (The Embroider’s Guild pegs their piece as 17th century); and the Philadelphia Museum of Art’s sample is also pegged as Italian, but bears rather that rather specious early date.
Now these three designs are not the same pattern. BUT they are quite similar in composition, aesthetic, and motif. All three use semi-realistic gnarled limbs in combo of stylized leaves and crosshatched branches. Two employ grape or berry clusters, and two use those odd multi-tier bell like flowers along with the leaves. All decorate leaves either all or in part with parallel lines, or segment them with some areas accented with parallel lines. And all use large leaves of similar form. Two employ similar sprig companion edgings, and all refer back to the crosshatched branch form for a small dividing border between the main field and the companion edging.
I have not yet found a modelbook example of a pattern in this style.
Are these all examples of a regional substyle – a design vocabulary popular in Rome in the late 1500s? Are they products of a specific professional family of embroiders, or a commissioned workshop/atelier? Were these motifs in general circulation – copied from household to household either from printed pages or from previous stitcheries? Were they done by or associated with other members of Honorata Foa’s congregation?
We can only speculate, and acknowledge that these designs are in fact visual cousins, and in all probability present a snapshot of a specific style, from a specific place, and a specific point of time.
Oooh oooh! What should I find in the Uffuzi Museum’s on line taste of their current “Colors of Judiasm” exhibit, but another 17th century piece with stylistic ties to the items above! It’s beginning to look like this particular group has very close ties to the Italian Jewish community of the 1600s-1700s!
At long last. Framed and hung up in the bedroom.
Obviously I now have to paint the bedroom walls…
I’m quite happy with the way this turned out. The frame is simple enameled steel, in deep navy. I ended up going to Walden Framer in Lexington, MA. Mr. Ed Pioli, the owner and artisan in chief, did an excellent job at a reasonable price. I will be bringing my other as-yet unframed pieces there, too.
To answer more questions on the piece’s composition, mostly from other people outside the framing shop when I was there. No, neither of us is a follower of astrology, and it’s not a panel depicting anyone’s sign. It’s just two koi, in a traditional arrangement. And no – there isn’t a boy-koi, and a girl-koi (or any other manifestation of yin/yang) intended. It’s just two koi swimming in a circle. And no, that’s not real gold thread. It’s high quality imitation gold sold for Japanese embroidery. And no, I didn’t sew it on a machine, I did it by hand. Really and truly. (People are curious about the strangest things.)
What am I working on now? Well, the Great Tablecloth/Napkins project is done, but I still itch to stitch. So I’m just doodling. Filling up a small piece of linen, waiting for the Inspiration Fairy to chuck a brick through my mental window.
I’ve written about this design before. I think this time I’ll circle the center panel with other, narrower bands. Again, no set plan, I’ll just pick them as I go along, with no composition agenda in particular in mind. Eventually I’ll figure out what to stitch next.
It’s taken me a week or so to get this post up and out. In the mean time my doodle has grown, but still has no plan.
The lower design is a curious one. Although it’s a clear repeat with the rather bulbous naked cherub alternating with the cockatrice, there is little symmetrical inside the repeat. Close attention has to be paid to this one because even the internal framing mechanism (the bar and beads below the feet of each) has a different counts in each of its two instances, and the usual urn or leafy unit between the creatures also exists in two incarnations. It’s a curious one, for sure, but fun, and is keeping me on my toes.
Both of these designs will be in T2CM, which is moving again towards release. No date yet, but watch this space.