It’s been a while since I posted last. Hectic doesn’t begin to describe it. Kitchen finish, work-related deadlines, college graduations, and last – a blissful vacation week on Cape Cod in our new beachside condo, full of kayaking, golf, good food, and the active pursuit of doing absolutely nothing. All in all too many things to accomplish, with too little time to document any of it.
But through it all, a modicum of sanity-preserving handwork has happened: three pairs of hand-knit socks (my default no-thinking project of choice); plus some others.
First, thanks to the generosity of Certain Enablers who shall remain unnamed – a vintage shrug. I began working on this just before the vacation break. On US #9 (5.5mm) needles, this one was a quick knit. At left is the photo from the pattern. At right is my piece.
Those projections on the side are the sleeves. Obviously, I haven’t seamed the thing up yet. A bit of pretzel-type manipulation is slated to happen that will result in a T-shaped seam in the back, and the graceful drape of the simple drop-stitch rib pattern curving in the front. Or so we hope. I have the piece left on the needle because I haven’t decided yet on whether or not I will be doing some sort of live-stitch seam. It’s hot and sticky right now – too hot to sit with this tub of alpaca boucle on my lap. I’ll go back and finish this piece off when it cools off a bit. I’ll have to rush though, so Target Recipient can take the completed garment off to university with her next month.
Second is also a time-linked project. The first of two, in fact. I am edging off the two inspirational samplers I did for the girls, backing them and readying them for simple rod type hanging. Here’s the first. I’m hand’ hemming the backing/edging cloth to the stitching ground. The backing cloth is in one piece, strategically folded to be a self frame. I’ll baste a length of chain threaded on some thin woven tape in the bottom fold to provide weight, and leave small gaps in the two top corners for insertion of the hanging rod:
The second one will be close behind – the other sampler I did this fall/winter past. Also finished out for hanging from a rod. More on that after I’ve laid it out. In fact, if folk are interested, I’ll use the second one to illustrate the folding and stitching logic required to do this.
And finally, just for fun with no deadline attached (so you know what I’ll be working on tomorrow evening), an Autumn Lace shawl out of some unknown Noro fingering weight yarn, augmented by some Noro Taiyo Sock. The unknown Noro was also from the same Enabling Anonymous Donor, and was perfect for a project I’d been planning on working up for a long time:
Here you see the first course of leaves (worked bottom half, then top half). This is not a particularly difficult pattern, but it is an exacting one, with a pattern that has to be closely followed, and that is not within my capability to memorize. More on this one as it develops.
Another question from the inbox: “So, what’s up with those snails?”
No mystery – just a bit of silly that’s been codified into semi-tradition.
The original strip of snails was one of the first patterns I doodled up – inspired by the non-counted snails in Scholehouse for the Needle (1624). That was way long back ago, when I was still in college. They’ve wandered in and out of my notes over the years, first appearing as a spot motif, and eventually ending up in my first and second hand drawn pattern collections (published in ‘76 and in the early ‘80s) and eventually my own New Carolingian Modelbook. I dedicated that form of the pattern to Mistress Peridot of the Quaking Hand – a local resident of the SCA Barony of Carolingia (Eastern Massachusetts/greater Boston area), famed for her calligraphy and her unselfish sharing of the same. The artist behind so many excellent awards scrolls. Peridot’s own device features a sleepy snail.
Maybe it’s a subliminal comment on slow, steady perseverance inherent in needlework, but for whatever reason, I have used that snail on the majority of my samplers. Not all, but most. Here are charts for some of the ways my little creeping friends have shown up. The original row is at the top left. The all-over of snails circling little gardens with ominous intent is from the Trifles sampler. The ribbon strip at the lower left is the bit I’m currently stitching in blue and red.
Trifles is moving right along. Waxing the thread has greatly speeded up production. You can see my working method: filling first, then outline to cover up any edge fill irregularities.
Here’s the gear set now:
I’m having fun picking out the fillings on the fly, trying to vary density, color, and form, so that abutters contrast nicely. For those who have asked – yes, every filling used so far appears in Ensamplario Atlantio. I have it downloaded to my iPad. My favorite sewing/knitting chair is a Mission-style recliner with very wide, flat wooden arms. I am able to stand the iPad up on one and zoom in on the chosen designs as needed. Very convenient.
Progress will get a bit less exciting from here on in. I plan to totally fill the ground around the motto with gears, each worked in a different filling design. No other colors will be used. I’m sticking to the deep russet red, chocolate, gold, and silver. I may or may not add some real brass gears as embellishment. I may add some small large-eyed tiny critters stuck in the gearwork, sort of like the soot sprites from the movie, Spirted Away. That’s another of the target recipient’s favorite fandoms.
As usual, I have several projects going at once. Right now these include the giant green sampler, the pullover I am knitting with a friend (now awaiting total rip-back and restart after An Inadvertently Destructive Incident), and the Trifles sampler I am working up for Younger Daughter. Although I do not intend to leave my co-knitting pal in the lurch, the last one is the only one with a hard deadline.
I’ve been road-blocked on Trifles for a while. I wasn’t sure how I would edge it, and what would define the interior space. I knew I wanted to do inhabited blackwork cogs for the filling, but the one I hand-drew wasn’t working out very nicely; plus getting many different sizes of gears to mesh properly was proving problematic. So I set the thing aside to ponder.
I’m now done pondering. My solutions are:
- Work a narrow edging around the entire piece, in slightly heavier stitching than the infillings, in order to define the field.
- Cheat. Use a commercial stencil to achieve the gear shapes. Not only does the stencil present a nice, large field of meshing cogs, it is also calculated to tile properly.
I found the stencil on line. It’s plastic, and much more durable than any downloaded/paper printed solution. I liked the clear differentiation among the shapes on this one, with very little overlap that would require hand-drawing the missing teeth. Although it wasn’t inexpensive, it will save me an infinite amount of grief. I will modify the individual gear shapes on the fly – stitching some with full interior detail as presented on the shapes, and some without, making more solid gears. I also have a little packet of brass Steampunk watch gear shapes, if I decide to add them as an added embellishment.
The narrow edging is yet another design from my forthcoming book, but worked in two colors. And I will be picking out the beginning of the filled gear underneath the letter “T.” Once I have the outer edging finished, I will trace the field using the stencil. Then I will stitch up the gears using fillings from Ensamplario Atlantio, with their edges defined crisply using either back stitch or chain stitch (experimentation will ensue).
On working a symmetrical counted edging without drafting up the entire thing ahead of time – it’s easy on a simple geometrical one like this. Begin at a corner. I improvised a corner treatment, where north/south and east/west meet. Then at the center of the piece (conveniently marked ahead of time by a line of basting), I improvised a symmetrical join, then mirrored the completed stitching previously done. Eighteen pattern repeats later, I mirrored the improvised corner. I will continue my march north until I get to the basted center line. There I will make another decision on how to treat the center and soldier on to complete that edge. I work that same kludge on the left hand edge. Since the centers will match top/bottom and side to side (even if they are different) – no one will notice them, and every corner will be crisp.
As to the thread – I am using the art silk stranded floss I found in India. I am not loving it. It’s rayon, and very slippery. Surprisingly, its tensile strength is less than that of cotton, no where near the mighty nature of real silk. It shreds, and must be used in short lengths. In addition, the plies separate and “walk” against each other. I have to use a laying tool to get even these short stitches to look nice. I would not recommend the stuff, and am glad that I will be using up pretty much my entire stock on this project.
When I last wrote, I was just getting underway with my Trifles sampler, a special request from Younger Daughter. Some of you expressed surprise that I don’t plan out these larger stitched projects all at once, graphing them up in their entirety before I start. But I don’t, although this one is shaping up to be a bit less chaotic than my usual process.
To start – here’s what I’ve done so far:
First off, I hemmed all the way around the edge of the cloth. This is something I rarely take time to do, and always regret skipping. It was furiously frustrating – to have the ground in hand but put off stitching, but I steeled myself to it and completed.
Second, I basted lines indicating the centers, north-south and east-west. Long time pal Melisande will smile at this because the thread I always use for this purpose is plain old sewing cotton left over from the bridesmaid’s dress I sewed to wear at her wedding. It’s a pale baby blue – dark enough to be seen on white ground, and light enough to show on dark; non-fuzzing, quick to pull out, and non-crocking.
Yes, when originally stitched the two center lines intersected, but it’s my habit to pick out the guidelines as I no longer need them, so that they don’t get caught up by the embroidery stitches. I determined my center and began from there, removing and clipping my basted guidelines prior to working the cross stitching.
Cross stitching? Yup. Plain old cross stitch for the alphabets on this one. Also for the Daleks, one of which can be seen adjacent to the big “P.”
In this case I have actually graphed up the entire center section that bears the inscription and the offspring-mandated Daleks. Younger daughter prefers symmetry to chaos, and she specifically requested that I do everything I could to align the words neatly.
Now, what to do for the rest of the piece, once the motto is complete…. Originally I thought I’d do more strips from my upcoming book, just for the fun of trying them out. But the late 19th century alphabets in brown and gold silks is giving the piece a particularly steampunk look. Again welcome, since Younger Daughter is a big steampunk fan. I suppose those bands could work, but now I have been seized upon by a Concept, one that has affixed itself to me like a tiny homesick kraken.
Instead of strips, I will probably do this as a montage in inhabited blackwork – the style that features solid outlines, with various shapes filled in using geometric fillings.
Off I fly to draft and cut some standard stencils for my shapes, and to play with their placement. Stay tuned!
I know I’ve been promising for quite a while, but serious progress is being made on The Second Carolingian Modelbook:
The thumbnail shows the first fifty or so plates, plus their write-up pages. There are seventy-five in all, well over 200 patterns, with each and every one linked to a specific historical artifact or primary source.
About two thirds of the patterns are specific for counted linear styles, or mixed linear/voided works. The rest are solid block unit patterns suitable for background or foreground stitching. They can also be used for knitting, crochet, marquetry, mosaics, or any other craft that uses charted motifs.
Right now I’m touching up a few of the pages, writing a similar number of comments, plus the intro essay, and cleaning up the bibliography. I’m torn about including indices like I did in the first book. I don’t think they were of much use, so I am thinking of omitting them in order to get this puppy finished for once and all.
So that’s where I’ve been, and what I’ve been doing. I promise to trumpet here when the book is available for sale.
Whether you’re living abroad, in a dorm, newly moved to a new location, or spending time away from friends and family that you’d normally spend with them, there’s nothing like time zone and distance separation to make one feel disconnected.
It’s Passover time. We generally don’t make a huge deal of it in our house. Some years we celebrate the Seder with friends, or travel to Florida to do it with my mother and extended family down there. But even if we are having a quiet year with minimal fuss, to me at least Passover foods and at the bare minimum – a special dinner – are sure signs of spring and the comfort of home.
I am sure that somewhere here in Pune, matzoh can be had, along with macaroons and other seasonal goodies. There is after all a Chabad House here in town. I haven’t found these things yet, but to be fair, I haven’t conducted an exhaustive search, either. Instead, I improvised our own special dinner last night, roasting a tiny chicken in our Easy Bake Oven, making potatoes and onions, plus a sort of a ratatouille with the local baby eggplants. We talked about the holiday and the special significance it has to us this year, as literal “strangers in a strange land.”
However I can’t let the holiday time slip by so unmarked. To make up for that I present some stitched historical artifacts found in museum collections, with direct connection to either the Jewish community of the 1500s, or to the Passover story itself.
First up is this bit of stitching, a Torah binder in the collection of the Jewish Museum in New York:
F 4927, Torah Binder, , Photographer: John Parnell, Photo © The Jewish Museum, New York
The full citation for this object is here (accession F-4927; the photo above has been shamelessly borrowed from that website). In short, it is dated on the artifact itself – 1582/3 (Jewish calendar 5343), and was donated by a woman, Honorata, the wife of Samuel Foa, to a congregation in Rome. It’s unclear if she stitched this herself, or if she commissioned it, because the inscription can be interpreted either way: “In honor of the pure Torah, my hand raised an offering… it is such a little one.”
The pattern is so typical of its time: double running stitch (or possibly back stitch, we can’t see the reverse), counted, in silk on linen. It might be modelbook-derived, although I haven’t spotted the exact source yet or found the same design on another artifact. I will continue to look for it. The museum does mention that the Sephardic community of Italy and Turkey commonly used secular design elements for devotional items, and that donation by a woman without a specific dedication in the name of a male child was also a normal practice.
Was this was in fact done by Honorata Foa herself based on a published or copied design? Did she stitch this as the donation of a home-needlewoman; or was she somehow part of an embroidery atelier or other enterprise, and used her professional skills to make it? If the latter – was the Roman Jewish community in the late 1500s involved in the production of counted embroidery as a trade? Obviously, more research here is required.
I have graphed this pattern and will include it in T2CM. I may also pull together a separate project instruction sheet for a matzoh cover using it and its lettering.
UPDATE: YES! I knew I’d seen something like this before. This pattern is a very close cousin of the Large Grape Repeat with Matching Border, presented in Plate 71:1 of The New Carolingian Modelbook. It’s not spot on the same, but the leaf shapes, the berries, the crosshatched angular stems joining to a more organic trunk – they are very, very close. That one is also illustrated in Pauline Johnstone’s Three Hundred Years of Embroidery, Wakefield Press, 1986, on page 17. No modelbook or broadside sheet source yet. Here’s my rendition of 17:1, on a sampler I did back in 1989:
One curious note on the Johnstone citation, she notes that the piece she presents was done in chain stitch on the reverse side, to give the appearance of double running or back stitch on the front.
UPDATE UPDATE: Chris Berry of Glasgow, former Chairman of the Embroiders Guild has sent me a delightful note of clarification. She has examined the artifact pictured in Ms. Johnstone’s book, and is convinced through close observation that the chain-like appearance on the reverse was in fact a by-product of back stitch. The point of the needle split the floss on the reverse as the back stitches were formed, giving the reverse the look of split or chain stitch. But it’s back stitch, all the same. Heartfelt thanks for this information!
Here’s the second share. This is a series of Italian voided work panels depicting scenes from the Passover story. They are collected at the Cleveland Museum of Art, dated to the 16th-17th century. I’d guess from the inscriptions that they were not made for a Jewish audience.
The final plague, on the first-born (accession 1939.355):
The Red Sea overwhelming Pharaoh’s army (accession 1939.352):
It’s pretty obvious that these are all fragments of the same work or pieces made and intended to be displayed together – a series of panels with vignettes of the story, spaced out with floral ornament between. As to technique, there were several ways to produce a voided piece. One was clearly counted, with the design elements being plotted out on the ground cloth based on a full graph of some sort, and replicated true from repeat to repeat. These panels weren’t made that way. Not even the narrow borders are count-true. I would hazard that the images were sketched onto the cloth, then outlined in double running or back stitch. After the lines were established, the background was filled in using long-armed cross stitch. I would also guess that the lace applied along the bottom edge is needle-made, not bobbin lace.
So there you have it. Pesach far away from home, enlivened by holiday-themed needlework.
Happy holidays, Chag Sameach! Enjoy.
It’s a fair question – “Where have you been?”
The answer is “Busy.”
I’ve been out fabric shopping with friends; trying to establish a regularly meeting needlework circle at a local mall on Fridays; battling the Sacred Dust of India as it tries to repossess the flat; writing a presentation and workshop on the style intersection between Kasuthi embroidery and Renaissance counted work; dealing with assorted technology annoyances; working on TNCM2; trying to parse out more interesting blog entries from my London pix; and playing with various stitching and knitting projects.
First off, I’ve taken up Big Green again. It’s tough to do here. I need very strong light, and even with a small task spot in the living room, the only place bright enough is next to a window in the middle of the day. I long for my comfy chair and spotlight at home.
It’s hard to spot the progress on this strip because it advances at such a slow rate, but it’s there.
Then there’s a new stitching project, as leggy and coarse as Big Green is fine. I bought a pack of ultra-cheap dishtowels at the supermarket, because I always seem to have run out of non-terry ones when I am looking for something to toss over rising bread. One quick wash later, and as expected for bargain basement Indian cotton – they’d faded and shrunk. But wait! That dark indigo one is now a pleasant, mottled chambray. And it’s almost even weave:
So into the stash for some ecru DMC linen floss (which I’ve now learned has been discontinued. It figures…) Because I’m stitching over 3×3 threads to even out inconsistencies in the weave, and because the linen thread is fuzzy with its own rustic character, I decided to play on that folksy appearance rather than going for crisp, tiny detail. The pattern is yet another one that will be featured in in TNCM2. This, when finished out, will be a strip decorating a pocket edge of a zippered stitching caddy. The entire outside of the case will also be worked in one of the larger all-over patterns in TNCM2. Without cutting up the dishtowel, I intend to origami it into a series of graduated pleats, then stitch perpendicular to the folds to make pockets opening “up” and “down”.
The final step will be to fold the entire thing in half, then take an over-long large-tooth jacket zipper (toddler size), and run it around three sides. This should make an organizer pouch that when zippered, lies totally flat. I may sew one of the smaller interior pockets shut, stuffing it with some sort of padding to make pin cushion (perhaps with a finer gauge fabric as liner, so I can put emery into it). And I may also stitch in a couple of pieces of sturdy felt, so it has an integrated needle-book on the inside. The details of this finishing are still idle speculation at this point. Right now, it’s just a quick doodle.
I’ve been busy with knitting, too.
I’ve finished the body of the beaded red lace scarf. I’m drafting up the companion edging, with more beads and mitered corners. I also have to “kill” the acrylic yarn so that it lies flatter. Not quite sure how I’ll achieve this, since the beads make ironing problematic. But I’ll figure it out, even if I have to do up a couple of sacrificial beaded test swatches.
Also in the photo above is the latest pair of socks. That’s pair #5 in the past two months. I work on them while we wait for the school bus in the morning, or any other time I’m waiting on a line, for a car, or find myself idle outside the apartment. After this pair I’ll have to get creative in combining the leftovers on hand. I’ve gone through most of the sock yarn I brought with me. I have a couple of balls of Noro sock yarn left, but I’d prefer to use that for some other accessory. The yarn is beautiful but I prefer wearing (and washing) other sock yarns, for comfort and durability reasons.
O.k. I know a few of you want me to do a blow by blow travelogue of our London trip. But that’s not my forté. I’ll wander over and cover some of that material several posts, but mostly want to write about specific things we saw, this being one of the first times I’ve been able to get relatively up close and personal with historical artifacts. Besides, The Resident Male is a much better travel writer than I am.
First off, to satisfy my stitching readers, is this blackwork smock, currently on exhibit at the Victoria and Albert Museum:
The full citation cites it as being of British make, and stitched some time during 1575 to 1585. They posit home manufacture rather than a professional house. If you read through the full description, you’ll find out that the top part (the stitched bodice) was done on fine linen, and the unseen and unstitched lower part was also linen, but of a much coarser fabric. The plain lower skirt and the needle lace around the neckline and cuffs are modern reproductions. The accession number is T.113 to 118-1997.
I tried to take pix of this artifact to show the details. It’s basically three large rectangles, with underarm gussets (each sporting a flower, and unseen here). One rectangle for each sleeve, plus a larger one with head hole for the front, back and shoulders. I wanted to see if that center strip was seamed from smaller parts, but I wasn’t able to do so based on my examination.
One thing that delighted me was the use of various techniques for the fills. Some were done on the count. It looks like the grid may be 4×4 threads. I can’t estimate the stitch per inch count, but it’s roughly comparable in look to between 20 and 25 stitches per inch. The thread does look finger spun from floss silk, with some areas more tightly twisted than others, and some variation in thickness.
Some filling placements were eyeballed, and done freehand (note the trailing vines and spot motifs that follow the flower forms rather than marching rigidly in diagonals). The solid bits look to have been done in satin stitch or a stitch in the Romanian couching family. The dark borders around the shapes look to be either outline or stem stitch in some places, and in other places possibly whipped or threaded back stitch. There may be knot stitches in there, too, (especially the knotted line stitches that sport little side stitch “legs”) but my eyes couldn’t pick them out for absolute identification.
Effort was made to use the same filling in matching areas of symmetrical designs, but some variations do occur. In fact, the occasional lapses in attention to detail on the fills, and that some are presented in a couple of variations (see below) are charming, and makes me think that my guess that the fillings were thought up on the fly, rather than being copied from canonical works may be true. (Filling inventors, take heart.)
I tried to get very close to the turned back cuffs to determine whether or not they were exactly double sided, with both front and back identical. Well, they’re close but not absolute. My pictures aren’t good enough to show it, but there are (barely) detectable knots on the inside of the cuff. The double running stitch fills and solid areas (satin stitch in this case) are certainly worked very neatly, especially compared to the relative chaos of the back sides of other contemporary work, but they are not spot on exactly the same front and back, although they are presentable and nicely done, for sure.
Here are some more pix of the thing. These shots were taken by Elder Daughter, with her superior camera skills and equipment:
And finally, to satisfy the people who pointed out that I did not include exact citations for every fill in my free-to-download Ensamplario Atlantio collection, here is a set of 10 plates with fills sourced specifically to this artifact.
So much for facts. I have to say there were several items on display that caused me to hyperventilate like a Twilight fangirl. Blackwork geek that I am, this was one. It’s in excellent condition, with the stitching, dense, the threads shiny, and minimal wear or damage. The overall effect was one of understated opulence, but not splendor. For one, there is an aspect of “loving hands at home” to this piece, especially in the composition and heaviness of the fills.
But what struck me the most was that the standard of excellence in this piece is entirely achievable today. Yes, it’s exacting, and acquiring the materials would be difficult, but it’s not miles beyond the capability and reach of modern amateur needleworkers. It’s time we stop bowing to “the ancients” and banish our temporal craftsmanship insecurities The best of us are darned good (no pun intended), and many of the contemporary projects I see on the web are just as well executed as this prime piece from the 16th century.
Here’s the second group of purchases.
These are three cushion covers and three small glasses-case-sized pouches, all done in pattern darning. We also got these in Dilli Haat, in Delhi; from a Government-registered ethnic arts stall. In this case, the pieces were done by a Toda cooperative. The Toda people are from South India in the Niligiri Hills and surrounding areas. Their traditional culture is pastoralist, centering on dairy herds.
Their stitching, seen on a Toda’ woman’s outfit below, has been adapted for retail sale. The Dilli Haat vendor was selling the square cushions and small bags I bought, plus tote bags, larger throws, and bolster cushion covers (think cylinders, with the stitching going around the circumference).
Anyone who is familiar with my love of black, red and white geometrical stitching will know I was especially delighted to find these pieces. It will be difficult for me to part with any of them, even though I bought them as gifts.
In terms of technical specs, the white ground cloth is a bit like Aida cloth, even weave with a well defined “stitch here” hole structure; at roughly 20 doubled threads per inch. The thread used looks to be an acrylic lace-weight plied yarn. It’s a bit friable, so gentle care is in order to minimize surface fuzzing. The pouches and cushion covers are lined, so seeing the reverse is problematic.
Now, there are several embroidery styles in India that use pattern darning. For example, Kasuthi also employs Negi (weaving) stitch for individual stand-alone motifs or for borders in which the stitches form the foreground. But the Toda style is a bit different. It’s characterized by strips of uniform patterning, with the stitching making up a solid background against which the unworked ground cloth peeps through in geometric designs.
And I love it.