What have I been doing of late? Well, being lucky, I can work from home, so that’s been taking up most time, especially with major deadlines in the past week. In the time that’s left over, I have to stay busy, and not as a sacrifice to the “cult of productivity.” Mostly because unless my hands are occupied, my thoughts wander to dark places.
I have subdued a reluctant sewing machine and run up some face masks for my family:
I’ve been knitting a pair of socks from a gorgeous ball of yarn I had put away as being “too good for socks.” Well, I deserve nice things, too.
I’ve done some casual research, and found another rendition of The Old Castle design, dated to 1590-1610. I added it to my round-up of the designs in that family.
And I’ve embarked on a new stitching project. It’s a curious one that has no short explanation behind it, and in a way – it’s the ultimate FanGirl project.
As I’ve mentioned before, The Resident Male (pictured above) writes prime SF/fantasy. He is currently working on the second book in his Blair and Terendurr series. One of the delights of living with an author is that you get to read the output long before it escapes into the wide, wide world. And if you are really lucky, parts are read out loud to you as they are completed.
One of the stories in the forthcoming second book features a rather unusual band of confederates. I can’t go into more detail because I don’t want to post spoilers. But they have a motto in an other-worldly language, “Lucus Orthai Ta,” which translates roughly to “Life’ll kill ya.” I thought it would be fitting as his #1 fan to make a present for my author: an embroidery of this phrase, framed with The Dance border I posted here last week.
I started by combing through my usual haunt for unusual alphabets, Ramzi’s Patternmaker Charts collection of near 100 year old Alexandre, Sajou and other pattern booklets and leporellos, The one I picked is the third one on this page. They don’t get much more baroque or difficult to read than that set of squiggles. Perfect for an alien language.
And so I present the start – working out from the center and in cross stitch for the lettering, on 44 count almost-evenweave linen in “art silk,” it will take me a while to get to my skeleton army in double running stitch. But I will…
As for the story, you are just going to have to wait for him to complete the second book. It will be worth the wait!
A while back I stitched up this piece, both as a tribute to Hitchhiker’s Guide, and as a bit of inspiration for my office. I’m a proposal specialist – managing short deadlines and general panic are my stock in trade.
When I posted this on Facebook last Friday, I got several requests for the chart. So, tweaking memory dormant since 2009, I drafted one up.
I make this chart freely available for YOUR OWN PERSONAL, NON-COMMERCIAL USE. Consider it as “good-deed-ware.” It’s tough out there right now. Pay this gift forward by helping out someone else in need; phoning or getting in touch with a family member, friend or neighbor who could use a cheerful contact; volunteering time or effort; or if you can afford it – donating to one of the many local relief charities or food banks that are helping those displaced from work right now.
Eventually I will add this to the Embroidery Patterns page tabbed above. But for the time being – be safe, stay well, and care for those whom you love.
This one’s a quickie – a present for Denizen (one of Younger Daughter’s pals, currently staying with us). She’s also headed off to university next year, and deserves her own bit of stitched wall art with a favorite saying.
Denizen has requested the immortal words of Admiral Grace Murray Hopper, “It is often easier to ask for forgiveness than it is to ask for permission.”
As you can see, I’ve already laid in the saying itself, using yet another of the alphabets from Ramzi’s Patternmakercharts.blogspot.com website. In this case, I’ve chosen a very simple all lower case set from Sajou #104. A fancy font would be too bombastic for this sentiment. I used plain old cross stitch (POCS) for the letters.
Ground this time is a large-as-logs 30 count even-weave linen remnant from my stash, long since disassociated from any label, vintage, or maker identification. The floss is more of my India-purchased faux silk – deep crimson, bright green, strident blue, and daffodil yellow. Patterns (so far) are all from The Second Carolingian Modelbook. Being unbound by any historical or usage constraints on this one, I’m happily playing with colors, limited only by the availability of my remaining threads. I’d like to use far more red to anchor the piece, but it’s the color of which I have the least, so I have to work it in more sparingly.
I’m also changing up the orientation and proportions of this one. Instead of long and thin like historical samplers, or portrait orientation like a standard reading page pieces I’ve stitched lately, I’m doing this one landscape – with the longer dimension east-to-west rather than north-to-south. I’ll probably run a more solid border the full width top and bottom, either POCS or long-armed cross stitch. There will be two banks of geometric bands, left and right both above and below the centered saying. Although I might mix that up with a collection of spot motifs above the saying. I haven’t decided yet.
One failure of note though. I wanted to do some Swedish Weaving stitch on this one, as a nod to the Denizen’s heritage. While that style is usually done on huck towling, it can also be done on plain tabby weave fabrics. Unfortunately, this particular ground cloth and my ultra-fine floss are a bad combo for the technique. I didn’t like the look so I picked it out and went with what I have. I’ll do a Swedish Weave project another time.
The motto took just one weekend, and at red bit is only one night’s stitching – about 2 hours worth, so I forecast that I’ll rip through this project in no time.
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!
Stitching geeks – like those immersed in every esoteric discipline – love to argue; even when an issue is settled. Sometimes assertions bubble up again, are discussed with passion, and then go into remission. Occasionally these debates cycle back, usually because reference materials with outdated opinions are found by a new generation of hobbyists who take the authors’ words at face value.
One of these oft raised/oft settled debates involves the use of plain old common cross stitch in historical eras: was or was it not done before 1600. And the answer isn’t crystal clear, nor does it come with hard boundary dates. Let’s look at modern stitching and a dated example from the late 1500s.
Figural cross stitch isn’t new. It isn’t modern. But it has morphed into a recognizable modern style that has migrated from its pre-1600s cognates. The photo below is of a contemporary sampler designed by Marilyn Leavitt-Imbloom, for Lavender and Lace. It’s entitled “Angel of Dreams” and is widely available for purchase (a quick Google search will turn up retailers):
Ms. Leavitt-Imbloom’s work is pretty much the poster child for the modern needle-painted cross stitch style. Note the fluid forms, the subtle shadings that mimic painting, the half and quarter stitches and sparing (though dramatic) use of double running stitch outlines.
By contrast, here is one of the Oxburgh Hanging panels dated circa 1570, stitched by Mary, Queen of Scots (and/or Elizabeth Talbot, one of her ladies) during captivity. The first photo is shamelessly borrowed from the artifact’s Victoria and Albert page (Museum accession #T.33JJ-1955). The detail shots below it were taken by Elder Daughter on our visit there. If you click on the details, you’ll be taken to larger versions for closer inspection (patience please on the download, some are huge).
Now, the official descriptions cite “tent stitch” for all of the Oxburgh hangings. But if you look closely at the insect being inspected by the sea monster, it’s pretty clear that cross stitch was employed on this particular slip. Also note that the different parts of the insect were stitched with no regard for maintaining “the same leg on top”. Although some unworked bits just north of the Monster’s head can be seen and counted, we can’t rely on that because the bright white cloth peeking through the stitching is conservator’s ground, onto which the fragile stitching has been affixed. Fortunately, there is a small damaged area just north of the insect where we can see the original fabric:
Yup. Cross stitch, worked over a 2×2 thread grid.
On style – yes there are shadings, produced by marling a small number of colors of fine floss-fiber together to make threads of intermediate hues, rather than selecting pre-dyed solid threads of graduated color. But the shadings are far les subtle than the modern work. There are strong outlines also worked in cross stitch, probably related to the drafting methods of the time, in which the design was drawn directly on the linen prior to stitching. It is possible that black outlines were worked in part to cover those inked or otherwise drawn lines. I also think the outlines were worked first, based on the way that other stitches encroach upon them, with the colors added later – first to the foreground items, and finally to the background areas. Note that the lines do break in a couple of places, but I can’t say whether that is due to differential thread wear or they were truly omitted.
Now these all-over figural embroideries like the Oxburgh slips are not the only form of historical cross stitch. In fact, pictures like these are among the minority of surviving examples. Far more represented in artifact collections today are borders and strips in long-armed cross stitch or its variants. They’re not common, but cross stitched pictures did exist in the world of of the 1570s. And they looked rather different from contemporary figural cross stitched pieces.