Back from the drawing board. I plan to try this version out tonight. (Quick and dirty plot, not neatened up for general consumption).
You can see how it is wider, more open, and looser than the last version, below
Both are original compositions, incorporating and adapting motif bits from the main design, but they have very different movement and feeling.
My fellow bungee-jump stitchers, note that I also decided that aside from centering the companion border’s repeat on the midpoint of the established work, I am totally unconcerned with how the longitudinal counts of the two interact. This border will not end “neatly” at a corner. I will have to improvise something on the fly when I get there, so Off-the-Cuff Design Fun hasn’t officially ended yet.
I can sense the rising collective gasps of horror from the mass of people who prefer the entire project to be complete and neatly charted prior to being worked on a basted, gridded ground. I understand you and respect your ways, but I enjoy the frisson of danger inherent in my method, and accept that picking out is always a a looming possibility.
And for those of you who want to know what I’m using to create these, here’s a link to my tutorial series for using the free drafting program GIMP to set up and work charted designs. I’m afraid that due to the vagaries of blogging software indexing, the lessons are in reverse order. Go all the way to the bottom of the page, and start with the entry,
Stay tuned for results of this experiment. At the worst, it’s picking out, and back to the drawing board. Again.
Its a keeper!
Now on to finish out the leftmost repeat, add the one on the right, and add the now-established edging. Also to noodle out how to treat the corners… Adventures in needlework, for sure!
My doodle napkins. All eight complete.
Overall, I’m quite pleased. They were each individually fun and quick to stitch. I did not agonize over them (although there are no mistakes). Napkins are transient goods, destined for hard use, gravy stains, and wine spills. Therefore I did them “quick and dirty.” I used knots, rather than agonizing about ending off my double running stitch invisibly. I used launder-me DMC and Sajou cotton threads, not silk. And the napkins themselves after shrinking in the machine, sometimes through multiple washes, are all slightly different sizes, with almost a full inch of width/length difference between the smallest and the largest. Frankly, I don’t care – they will all serve their purpose quite well.
This shot is for Anne, who asked to see how I was wrapping the borders around the corners of the main motifs:
I’m not going back and adding a secondary border to the first one I did. Or at least today I’m not thinking about doing it. The others were exercises in educated fudging. I was thrilled that the border on the last one (lowest green one on the right) worked out perfectly, both horizontally and vertically, to make four neat and symmetrical corners. That was serendipity, not planning.
Now on to the tablecloth. This one is going to be a challenge. I’m using my sit-on hoop, with the bulk of the cloth gathered up and stuffed into a pillowcase that sits on my lap behind the hoop while I stitch. Not optimally comfortable, but necessary to keep the thing quasi-clean while I work. The cloth itself as a ground is not as easy to count or as forgiving as were the napkins. The threads are quite spindly and rather slubby, but I’m managing.
The design, like those on the napkins, is from my ever-forthcoming Second Carolingian Modelbook. This one in particular is a challenge. What you see here is less than an EIGHTH of the total repeat. This pattern is the largest all-over I have encountered. The artifact I charted it from (below) showed it in voided form, with the background filled by a heavily overstitched and meshy effect ground. I am only working the foreground in double running. Time is too short and tablecloth-hazard too likely for me to invest months in the very labor-intense original treatment of the background.
Special thanks to Christine Lee Callaghan (SCA – Lady Cristina Volpina), who unearthed the artifact from the collections of the University of Rhode Island, and provided spectacular photos of it to me, a byproduct of her own academic research. The image below is hers, appearing here by permission
A few of you have asked about the doodle napkins – a set of eight, all coordinating, but each one different. With six now stitched and number seven on my frame, I attempt to answer.
A while back I wrote about the pre-finished napkins and tablecloth I bought from Wayfair. While I note that neither the KAF Fete napkin set nor the Toscana tablecloth is still in their inventory, there are several similar products available from them and from Target, Overstock, Amazon and other sources.
Be warned! Prewashing these is an absolute necessity. They are linen-look cotton, or linen/cotton blends, and can be expected to shrink appreciably. So toss them in a nice, abusive load – like a hot wash with some other light color towels or sheets, and have at it. Compare them when they emerge, and if some are not quite as shrunken as the others (as happened to me) run them through again just to be sure.
My almost even weave napkins firmed up quite a bit, becoming even closer to a true even weave count, which was a surprise. But I didn’t change my plans for all of that. I always intended to work my stitching along one edge only, eliminating the need to turn corners, or worry about skew counts. I’d present them at table as shown, folded in quarters.
Now. How to begin…
First, I had to have designs. Simple for me. I am drawing mostly from my forever forthcoming The Second Carolingian Modelbook, playtesting more of the designs, and using the experience to flog myself towards getting over the hurdle of publication. I’m working directly from those pages, and am not bothering to rechart anything specifically for this use. Not even the narrow companion borders (more on this below).
I am also being quite cavalier with layout on the napkins. They are pre-hemmed. I am trying to use the same north/south orientation for all of them, keying off the placement of the brand tag on the back, but I am examining the two candidate ends closely, to pick the one that is the most “true”. By that I mean the one whose hemming runs closest to being true on the count. There are a couple of napkins that are hemmed slightly skew, and I wanted to make the stitching on them look to run as parallel as possible to the edges.
OK. With my chosen side to embellish identified, I folded the napkin carefully in half, and used a pin to mark the center point. Then I measured in from the inner edge of the machine-stitched hemming detail, and placed another pin perpendicular to the first. I admit I eyeballed the first one, then just used it as the paradigm for placing the second pin on the subsequent napkins (no actual measuring tape was involved). Pin placement is shown below, with the napkin mounted on my sit-on hoop.
Once the center point and work boundary are established I begin. That’s it. No basting guide lines, no other prep. Just grabbing my threads and going. I admit that others may enjoy working with basted guidelines, but for something this small, where the only point of reference is the center, I don’t bother. Feel free to castigate me for lazy prep.
Threads… Hmm. Which did I use?
The red was easy. When we were in Paris, I bought a box of Sajou four-strand cotton embroidery floss in red. I had always intended on using it for a set of napkins. I had bought linen there, too, but decided that I wanted to use that linen for other pieces that would be less “endangered” by gravy than dinner napkins.
The Sajou Retors du Nord cotton floss is put up on cards of 20 meters. I am using a red, #2409. I started with a box of five cards, and have used about half of my yardage on just the four napkins. For the green napkins, I’m using plain old DMC cotton six-strand floss in #890, in standard pull skeins of 8.7 yards (just shy of 8 meters). I am stitching with three plies of each thread, even though the Sajou is a tiny bit thinner than the DMC. I am enjoying using the Sajou because it is finer, shinier, and smoother, but I am simultaneously disappointed in the maker’s quality control. Each of the three Sajou cards I have used so far has had component plies with knots, shredded sections, or snags – where the individual plies are kinked and not all of the same length in a given span of thread. While the DMC thread is more matte and a bit rougher in finish, in over 50 years of using it, I have never run into a less-than-perfect skein. It’s possible that I bought a box of Sajou made on a bad day, but three out of three cards with faults is not what I expected.
OK. The thread is ready, I’ve got my main design in hand, I’ve got the napkin mounted on my frame, with the center point and top limit of my design marked. Now what?
Starting at the center (red arrow above on Napkin #7, showing the point indicated by the now removed pins), I begin playing with one of the narrow edgings – usually something less than four units tall. I pick one from the book, or I make on up on the spur of the moment. In this case, I’m using a pretzel edging of my own devising, also in T2CM.
Using a separate thread for the companion edging, I work three or four repeats off in one direction – usually to the left (for no reason in particular), then I move the working thread out of the way (sometimes winding the excess on a temporary pin), and using another thread, begin my main motif strip – also working out from the center, stitching over a 2×2 thread grid. In the example above, the weird double leaf meander. The threads trail off at the upper left because I don’t want to re-position my hoop until I absolutely have to. Once I move it over, I’ll take each of those stragglers up in turn, and use it to completion.
After I’ve gotten a bit laid down, I re-evaluate the narrow companion border. If I don’t like it, I pick it out and work another of the same width. Once I’m happy with it I also work it below the main motif. It’s obvious in the photo above, that I tried out the pretzels, liked them, and went on to stitch up my first length of thread in the strip of it above the main motif, and am now working on its sibling, below.
After I’ve gotten my design established continue on, happily, working my main motif, and eking out the companion borders as I go along but lagging a bit behind, until I’ve stitched the main motif close enough to the end. Once a full repeat of my main motif is on the fabric, I rarely refer to the printed pattern again, working instead from the already-stitched bit.
When I get to the leftmost edge, I take up the companion borders again and improvise a corner turn for them. If I’ve kept count true the upper left and lower right corners should be matches, as should the lower left and upper right. Or if I’m very lucky, all four will match. Or if my improvised corner is looking awkward, I’ll just butt the ends. In any case, I am not agonizing about the corner treatment. I’ve seen enough period artifacts where it’s clear that the historical stitcher didn’t invest much agony in them either. (When I’m done with all eight napkins, I’ll post on improvising the corners, because this note is getting too long.)
As to which patterns to do on the next napkin, or what to use on the coordinating tablecloth – it’s all whim. For the tablecloth, I will probably pick one or more of the largest all-over designs from my books, either to work as a large rectangular medallion in the center or three evenly spaced smaller areas, but I won’t be working strips around the entire perimeter, nor will I be working stripes across the whole width of the table. And that’s the only advance planning I’ve done so far.
OK. Just before the Thanksgiving holiday we decided to get some new table linens, so we would have a nice table setting for the finished dining room’s holiday debut. Given the busy green floral wallpaper and intricate rug, I wanted something monochrome for contrast. Also something that presented more of a hand-made welcome rather than stark white formality was in order.
I looked around a bit and settled on these affordable cotton or cotton/linen blend washables from Wayfair:
On the left above is the tablecloth, showing a corner, and on the right, one of the napkins. Although they aren’t a matching set, they are close enough in color and texture to coordinate, plus both sport a small openwork detail. For the record, the napkins are branded “Fete” and are cotton. The tablecloth is branded “Toscana” and is a polyester/linen blend. Both are machine wash, machine dry cool/low. The tablecloth is no-iron.
You can see from the tape measure on the napkins, I had an ulterior motive. I always have an ulterior motive…
Eventually I intend to do some embroidery on these. My thought is to do a strip of a different voided or linear design on each one, in a deep, wine red, using the thread I bought at Sajou in Paris when we were there. But there was no time to begin before the holiday, so on the table they went. Thankfully all of the linens survived turkey, wine, cranberry sauce and the rest, and were then sent through the recommended gentle wash/low dry cycle. And it’s a good thing that I did so.
Blurry photo aside, you can clearly see that the four napkins I used have shrunk considerably when compared to a napkin from the other set-of-four, as yet unwashed – the bottom one in the stack. The tablecloth did not shrink appreciably.
As far as thread count on the napkins – in the before state they were approximately 18×22 threads per inch. The count of the most-shrunken one is now much closer to 24×24 threads per inch. The tablecloth remains very close to 30×30 threads per inch. I won’t guarantee that either are true even-weave, but for me, they are close enough.
In conclusion, I do recommend a hearty pre-wash and deliberate shrink prior to any counted stitching, if that’s what you want to do on these. And I may end up touching up the napkins with an iron before I use them again – embroidered or not.
For the time being, this project is taking a far-back, back seat. I have a ton of holiday and bespoken gift knitting to complete, first.
Continuing from yesterday’s post, here are the next ten images from my Schola talk on historical counted thread embroidery, originally given in 2014.
I know there are people who want updates on the Two Fish project. Here’s progress as of last night:
Just two more count-filled areas to go – the cheek between the eye and the gills, and the far fin. The cheek fill will be relatively light, and the fin, much darker than the rest of the fish, but I haven’t picked out either one yet.
Most obviously – I couldn’t wait. Since I don’t plan to relocate the hoop before I end up taking it off altogether and moving to my flat frame, I decided to add the sequins.
As per my earlier random thoughts, I sewed down one 2mm flat gold pailette in the center of each interwoven O shape in the body fill. I attached them using one strand of well-waxed gold tone silk – three stitches per pailette. I’m very happy with the look, and only lost a few that refused to cooperate, skittering away under my chair. If I were to do this again, I’d probably make a muslin cover for a squishy rectangular sponge, and scatter the sequins on it, then use my needle tip to pierce the center hole and pick up each little circle as I needed it. Putting a bunch in a dish, then trying to fish them out one by one with large, clumsy fingers was not efficient.
For reference, the extra-tiny pailettes aren’t a big-box-crafts-store item. I found them on-line, from General Bead in San Francisco. Their 2mm stock is very limited – a vintage assortment of various sizes and colors, made in the 1980s.
I’ve also gotten a start on the heavier outlines. I’ll add the overstitched details to the fins and tail after that. For a while I thought I might render those details in ecru silk, to match the ground fabric color, but I decided that it would be jarring to do that for one fish but not the other. The pailettes are enough of a differentiator between the two. I’ll use blue for those lines, to match the fin/tail color of Fish #2.
Unusual Stitching Gadget/Tool Report
The other bit to report is a rather unorthodox method of remediating crocking – the unwanted transfer of color from the thread to the ground fabric (or the stitcher’s hands).
The deep blue floss silk I am using is an experimental item, an early try at hand-dyed indigo by my Stealth Apprentice. She shared a sample from her initial trial run with me, to see how it worked, and to get feedback to improve her product. But even though we determined that she needed to improve color-set on subsequent batches (which she has done, with excellent results), I am too frugal to let anything go to waste. So I began this project with the beta-test silk.
For the most part, I don’t mind a small amount of crocking on this project. I think it adds to the watery look of the fish. But there have been a couple of mistakes and false starts on my part, where I have had to pick out stitches done in indigo. Those corrections left substantial residue on the cloth. So… How to get rid of the deep blue smudges without harming the already-stitched work? It’s obvious that water-based solutions aren’t going to help. They’ll just float more dye off the threads.
So I hit on an improvised solution.
Yes, that’s Silly Putty. Thinking back, I remember spending lots of time pressing Silly Putty onto newspaper comics pages, to lift images that could be stretched in laughable ways. If it could attract and hold ink from newsprint, might it be able to lift the surface dusting of indigo color from my ground cloth? Maybe…
Looking over the specs for chemical composition and the on-line Materials Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) for the components, it looked like the worst I’d be risking was potential deposit of oil. So I tried it on a scrap of fabric, and saw no oily residue.
I decided to go for it. Using the plastic eggshell underneath to support the fabric, I pressed the Silly Putty onto the smudged area, then quickly lifted it straight up (no scrubbing or “erasing” movements). The goal was not to let it linger on the cloth any longer than it needed to.
While this didn’t work perfectly, three or four quick blots did remove enough of the smudges to even out their tone with the rest of the surrounding area. The blotted area is the part of the back fin, the center of the back fin section closest to the tail.
Under magnification I can see no bits of Putty left in the cloth or in adjacent stitching, nor can I see any oily discoloration. Now that’s not to say that in 100 years (if this piece lasts that long) the blotted areas might not appear extra dirty or otherwise affected, but I won’t be around to do that bit of textile restoration, so for me at least, it’s a win.
Would I try the Silly Putty Solution again under similar circumstances? Probably.
Do I recommend it unconditionally? No. I caution that you carefully weigh possible risks prior to using it on a valuable piece of your own work.
More progress has been made on my Two Fish blackwork piece.
I’ve gotten more questions about how I go about doing these. I’ll try to answer them here, rather than piecemeal by message. If you have additional questions, please feel free to post them in the comments. I’ll sweep up all that lands there, and then answer them in the next Fish post. First – today’s progress:
And the questions….
Where can I get this kit?
There is no kit, it’s an original composition of classic elements that I am designing on the fly. I won’t be publishing a chart for the final project, or releasing it as a kit.
The Resident Male had mentioned a two-fish embroidery a while back, so I started by looking at a few on-line images of swimming koi. Here’s a post about designing original projects drawn from various sources of inspiration.
Using the freeware GIMP graphics program, I adapted a couple, starting by tracing some, then merging them to blend parts together, simplifying details, changing proportions, increasing the spine curvature, and tweaking angles – until I had a fish I liked. Then I flip-mirrored it so that I had two fish circling each other. After that I added the “water lines” behind the pair – adapting them from the bit below (from a book of traditional Japanese wave and ripple designs – Ha Bun Shu, by Yusan Mori, circa 1919), also traced, augmented a bit and then enlarged.
Once I had the whole thing drawn out, I sized it up to be my desired dimension, using the GIMP resize feature, and printed it out on paper.
How did you prepare your cloth?
I selected a piece of 40-count linen, cut a square about 30% larger than my target design dimensions, hemmed all four edges, and basted guide lines to help me identify the center point. On this project I am picking out those guide lines as stitching encroaches on them. I’ve got no need to keep them intact because nothing depends on placement against them. For the record, I’m working my fills over 2×2 threads – 20 stitches per inch.
How did you get the drawing onto the cloth?
I used the poor-girl’s light table – a big window, and a bit of painters’ tape. I took my resized drawing and taped it to my dining room window, then centering the basted lines of my already-hemmed and center-identified fabric over the marked center of the on-paper design, I taped the ground cloth to the window on top of the paper pattern. This is the same method I used for my Ganesh project, although I had just Scotch Tape in India:
Then I traced the design onto the ground using a bunch of pencils I had to hand – some washable pencils intended for cloth marking, some not. I’ll probably regret not using Proper Pencils, but the urge to get going does not always wait until optimal supplies have been secured.
Did you graph out the whole design?
Nope. All I transferred to the cloth were the outlines. For inhabited blackwork (the substyle that uses outlines plus fills), I never graph out the whole project. Once the outlines are on the cloth, I work my fillings right into the spaces indicated, if needed, by looking at a sample of the design, either on another cloth or on paper.
At the time I did the tracing, I had absolutely no firm thoughts about colors, fill designs to use, thickness of outlines, or how to work the water lines. I knew I wanted to use a hand-dyed indigo silk, and possibly some couched metallic thread, but that was it.
Where are the fills from? How do you pick what fills to use?
In truth, I have no idea which fill I will use for any particular spot until I am ready to stitch it and make my selection. Most of the fills I’ll use on this piece are in Ensamplario Atlantio, my free eBook of blackwork geometrics, but I may draft up more or tweak existing ones as needed.
In this case I started with the largest area on the darker of the two fish. I wanted something vaguely reminiscent of scales, but with more interest. I thumbed through book and hit upon the knot design. For the other side of the fish, I used the same fill, but offset it, to imply movement (mating the design across the fin area would have made a flat, static composition). I wanted the tail to feel “swishy” so I chose a design with a prominent swirl. For the back fin, I chose one of the lightest fills, for contrast. The fin behind the fish uses a darker effect fill than the fin in front, again to add depth. And so on.
I try to scale the chosen fill to the size of the area where it will live. Big areas get the largest, most demonstrative fills. Small areas get smaller repeats. Sometimes though I’ll violate this, if a larger design has a smaller sub-element that will fit entirely in the current space – like picking one strawberry out of a larger repeat and using just that.
Do you ever pick a fill you regret later?
Sure. Sometimes a fill does not show to good advantage next to its neighbors. Then I pick it out and try again. But this doesn’t happen very often.
What about the outlines?
I almost always wait to embroider the outlines until all of the adjacent fills have been completed. This gives me a bit of time to be satisfied with the fills as worked, and lets me cover up the edges where fills meet. It’s MUCH easier to cover up than to work flush to a pre-stitched outline, especially when the fill may require a half-stitch at the edge for complete coverage.
The exception for this was my Forever Coif. Instead of drawing the design on my ground, I used cross stitch to lay down my outlines (based on a familiar design, charted in my New Carolingian Modelbook), and then in-filled the to-be-stitched areas with geometrics. Finally, I over-embroidered my cross stitch outlines to make them heavier and more prominent. The original cross stitching does not show:
On Two Fish, I am using mostly reverse chain stitch for the outlines. The thinner accent lines inside the fins and tail are split stitch. Differences in line thickness are achieved by using different numbers of floss strands.
Why not? This is an original, modern piece, done using styles and techniques inspired by historical stitching. There are no Embroidery Police waiting to ticket me because I am using multiple colors.
I started out intending to only use the indigo – a product dyed by a friend of mine. While I love the look, I decided I wanted to play with an additional vector of contrast, so I liberated some commercial Au Ver a Soie Soie D’Alger from my big green sampler project and began experimenting. I liked the additional depth it gave. I may do the other fish as a tonal “opposite” to this one – a traditional treatment of the two-circling-koi motif. If I do, I may swap placement of the colors as well as changing up the density of the fills, so that Fish #2 may have a less dense green body, but darker blue fins and tail.
And the wavy water lines?
Right now, I am still thinking couched metallics. I haven’t decided between gold or silver, or a mix of both. I have some nice silver passing thread brought back from my Paris trip, but nothing comparable in gold, and only a limited quantity of the Sajou stuff. So I have to find the **right** thread for them. That’s going to be tough, with no local sources. I’ll have to rely on recommendations, on-line reviews, and catalog descriptions. Suggestions will be gratefully accepted!
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
And another, from TextilesAsArt.com, entry 2227, they call it out as being Moroccan from Azemmour, and date it to 1650.
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.
From the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Accession 09.50.1291, now tagged as Moroccan from Azemmour, from the 18th century.
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).
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.
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…
I have no idea if this design has ever been given an official name, but it shows up with regularity in museum collections. It’s part of a larger design cluster that includes several other patterns, but more on that another day. Today is the Flower’s day. Now. Is this a 17th century design? Or is it later…
I call it “Spider Flower” because it’s characterized by a center bloom that has rather arachnid looking petals, often spiky. It can also be recognized by a simple diagonal meander (with up/down symmetry), and some sort of knot or “wing-nut” swelling ornamenting the simple meander. It’s usually accompanied by a smaller secondary border, but there is little consistency among samples on the secondary border. However, the secondary borders can help in assigning Spider Flower to the cluster I mentioned.
In addition to the general voided layout, there is often complex hatching or other ornamentation on the foreground bits. The background varies too, although it’s usually a solid color treatment – either long-armed cross stitch, or the tightly pulled mesh stitch common to strip pieces produced in Italy.
Here’s a pretty typical example:
This sample is a photo from the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, Accession 16.300. The museum calls the ground “tent stitch” but it looks more like a four-sided Italian cross stitch pulled moderately tight (the mesh effect is not very pronounced, but the coverage is there). It’s part of the MFA’s Denman Waldo Ross Collection, which means it was collected some time prior to his death in 1935. The MFA does not date this piece, and attributes it to North Africa or Spain.
Apparently, Mr. Ross liked this design. He found several examples of it. Here’s another, also from the MFA, Accession 98.204. The museum calls it out as “Spanish or Eastern,” but tags it as being Italian embroidery. Again, it’s called tent stitch, but zooming in shows that the ground is the same four-sided boxed cross stitch, pulled tight.
Nope, it’s not part of the same piece, although the similarities are clear. Not only are the secondary border and internal fills different, but the details of the voided area’s shapes are a bit different, too. Yet for all that, it’s clearly recognizable as another Spider Flower.
Mr. Ross’ third sample in the MFA’s collection. This one is Accession 93.208. Same working method, and again – the museum’s own photo. No date on this one either, although it is also called “Spanish or Eastern,” and tagged as Italian embroidery.
This one has a different and more elaborate secondary border. Also the border is asymmetrical north/south. Possibly it came from the end of a towel or cloth.
But not all of the Spider Flowers I have seen have come from the MFA. Here’s one in the holdings of the Yale University Art Gallery, accession 1939.498 – a gift of Mrs. F.M. Whitehouse in 1939. The museum dates it as being 19th century, originating in Morocco, but put a disclaimer on the page saying that the on-line documentation does not necessarily reflect their most current knowledge about the piece.
The picture is rather dark and compressed, and the work itself is heavier and less delicate than the above samples, but it’s clear that we have our Flower, along with its companion border. There are some similarities – the layout, the center flower and meander, the ornamentation inside the voided spaces; and some differences, the largest of which is the truncation of that wing-nut decorated lozenge on the meander’s center. It has lost its center barrel. As far as technique goes, I can’t say anything for certain, although given the density of the ground and its alternating left-right directionality, it might be long-armed cross stitch.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art (MET) in New York also has its own Spider Flower sample. Accession number 09.50.1375 seen below in the museum’s photo, was purchased for the museum through the Rogers Fund in 1909. This artifact is dated 16th century, and is sourced to Italy or Greece:
Companion border? Check – and again a totally different one accompanying the main design. Intensely decorated voided spaces? Check. Spindly flower, meander, and barrel/wing-nut lozenge? Yup. This one to me reads as a likely long-armed cross stitch ground, with the plaited row appearance of that stitch.
And lest you think these things were only done in red – here’s in indigo example.
I have quoted this image from the page of Mr. R. John Howe, private collector and dealer in textiles (it’s about half-way down the very long listing), in his report on an 2010 address given by Mae Festa, a noted textile collector, at the Textile Museum in Washington, DC. Ms. Festa attributes the piece to 17th century Italy. She calls it out ias being done in cross stitches and double running stitch. I think the ground is long-armed cross stitch.
So. What can we say about the group as a whole?
Mostly that it is of an undetermined and broad Mediterranean origin, with museums placing the pattern anywhere from Spain to North Africa, to Greece – with a time stamp ranging from the 1600s to the 1800s. That’s a lot of wiggle room.
Why are the dates and places so imprecise? That “Indiana Jones” era of private collecting, for one. The identification on these bits often depended on the claims of the dealers who sold them to the original art patrons on tour. Very few of these household linen fragments have been revisited in detail since museum acquisitions, and those happened between the 1880s and the 1930s.
With no detailed analysis, I can’t second guess the experts, but comparing these to other Moroccan pieces, and to others in the design cluster, then factoring in the conservative nature of traditional stitching, I’d say that it’s not impossible that such an easy to stitch design persisted for a very long time. 1800s – possibly, but I think these are sufficiently different from clearly dated ethnographically-collected Moroccan pieces of the 1800s to warrant speculation that they were done before that (or possibly elsewhere). Early 1600s might be an optimistic stretch, though.
Why do I think this design is easy to work? You’ll see…
Just to vex my new readership, I start a totally unhistorical stitching project. Well, not to vex anyone actually. This piece was bespoken by The Resident Male a while back. I’ve thought about it for several years, and decided to finally do it. The ultimate purpose is a piece to hang on the wall of our Cape Cod place, as part of a large collage of sea life art.
The design is based on a double-koi motif, where the fish are circling each other. I began with a clip art of a single fish, and simplified it, changing proportions and angles, and removing detail that would be obscured by my chosen stitching style. Then I mirror imaged and flipped a duplicate of my first fish, placing it opposite it’s sibling, and trying to get them more or less balanced and centered as a composition.
For the last bit – the “water lines” in the background, I thank the Public Domain Review, for posting a link to a book of traditional Japanese wave and ripple designs – Ha Bun Shu, by Yusan Mori (circa 1919). My chosen ripple was taken from page 22.
So, with my inspired-by fish, and borrowed water lines (with some of my own extensions to eke out the composition’s dimensions), I end up with this – already shown window-traced onto my prepared ground:
The ground chosen is an almost-white 40 count linen, hemmed on all four sides. I’ve marked the center with basting lines of old, non-crocking plain old sewing thread. I will be picking them out as I encroach upon them because there is no central guide purpose they serve after aligning the initial tracing. I will be using silks, mostly. Originally I thought I’d be stitching only in a hand-dyed natural indigo, colored by (and occasionally available from) my Stealth Apprentice, but last night I changed gears and have added some commercial Au Ver a Soie Soie d’Alger, in a deep green.
I will be working my two fishies in a combo of styles. The fish themselves will be done in inhabited blackwork, with fills inside strong outlines. I’ll pick the fills on whim as I go along, and possibly come up with some new ones along the way. The fish will not be direct opposites of each other – the inner detail will vary, but one will definitely be lighter (using less dense fillings) than the other, and placement of the blue and green may swap.
Right now I’m toying with doing something different for the outlines, instead of my usual plain old chain stitch. Not sure yet what, but I do want to vary the width of some of them analogous to heavier brush strokes.
The water lines will probably be done in gold or silver (maybe both), possibly simple couched strands, possibly something else. I bought some heavier metallic threads at the Sajou store in Paris, and have been hoarding them for the right project. They may well come into play here.
And the first little bit – a filling from Ensamplario Atlantio, the fourth part:
So. Do I have a plan? Kind of. But I still like the fun of designing on the fly.