And its the cold, snowy part of the Boston seasonal experience. Which is not improving my outlook much. But there are bright spots. We do what we can.
Here’s a free offering (also available via my Embroidery Patterns tab, above). This motto just cries out to be a sampler, the irony of using an art that in and of itself requires intensive perseverance to accomplish is just too sweet. Click on the chart image to get the full JPG, formatted for 8.5 x 11 inch paper. (Finished stitching sample courtesy of long-time friend Gillian, who was the first to post a finished piece picture. Her’s is on 14-count Aida, finished post-wash size of stitched area is about 7″ x 9″.)
The alphabets used are (more or less) contemporary with the women’s suffrage movement – found on Ramzi’s Patternmaker Charts site, among his collection of vintage Sajou and Alexandre booklets. The particular one I used for all three alphabets is here. The border is adapted from one appearing in a 1915 German book of cross stitch alphabets and motifs, in the collection of the Antique Pattern Library.
We all do what we can, and I encourage anyone with heartfelt opinions to use their time and skill set in service, as they see fit. Even if you don’t agree with me, filling the airwaves with positive messages rather than caustic imagery can’t hurt.
If anyone stitches this up and wants me to showcase their effort, please let me know. I’ll be happy to add pix of your work to the gallery here.
On my own end, I have been productive as well.
First finished (but not first started) – a quick shrug. Possibly even for me.
This is knit from the generous bounty resettled upon me by the Nancys, for which I continue to be grateful. The multicolor yarn is older Noro Nadeshiko, a blend with a hefty dose of angora, along with silk and wool. It is soft and supple, and although I am generally not a fan of desert colors – is superbly hued, with just enough rose, sage, cream, and grey to be perfect. The accent edge is done is another of their gift yarns – two balls of a merino wool variegated single, worsted weight. I held it double for extra oomph. One thing to note about the Nadeshiko though – it sheds. A lot. And the Office Dogs where I work like to sniff it (it probably smells like a bunny).
The pattern is Jennifer Miller’s Shawl Collar Vest – a Ravelry freebie. It is a no-seam, quick knit, written for bulky weight yarn. The thing fairly knit itself. Four days from cast-on to wear-ready. My only criticism is that the XL size is really more of a 12/14. I can wear it, but it’s very tight, and tends to emphasize attributes with which I am already more than proportionally blessed. My answer to this problem will be to unravel the green finish rounds, and add about 2 inches of stripey, then re-knit the green.
The nifty pin is an official heirloom of my house. Long ago and far away, SCA friend Sir Aelfwine (now of blessed memory) made it for me as a cloak pin. Obviously I still treasure it and wear it when I can.
On the needles is also yet another pair of Susie Rogers’ Reading Mitts, another free pattern available from Ravelry. I’ve done four pair of these, but never for me. I rectify that oversight now.
Obviously, the first one is done. Now for the second.
The yarn is yet another denizen of the Great Nancy Box – a worsted weight handspun alpaca – chocolate brown with flecks of white and pale grey, from Sallie’s Fen Alpacas. The photo doesn’t do the yarn justice. It’s butter on the needles, and gloriously warm. The only mod I make to the original pattern is using a provisional cast-on, then knitting the cast-on edge to the body on the last pre-welt row (to eliminate seaming).
My typing fingers will be toasty when #2 is done.
Here it is, totally finished, and with a vaguely decent picture (but as yet, unsigned and un-mounted).
The recipient is thrilled, which is always gratifying.
UPDATE: People want the specs on this piece so they don’t have to hunt through previous posts. 30 count evenweave linen ground, stitched over two threads (15 spi). The 6-strand floss is man-made “silk”, rayon actually; a vintage find brought back from India, slightly thinner than standard DMC floss. I stitched all of the foreground using two strands. Some of the background I did in single strand for contrast. Pattern strips with one exception are all from my forthcoming book The Second Carolingian Modelbook. The alphabet is from a vintage Sajou booklet #104 reproduced at Patternmakercharts.blogspot.com. I hemmed my linen by hand before starting.
The reason I haven’t done the last teeny bits is that I’m trying to finish off some end-of-year gifts for the spawn.
First up and already done was the new pair of Susie Rogers’ Reading Mitts, done in a sparkly yarn for Younger Daughter. She’s a fan of the surreal Welcome to Night Vale podcasts. One of their taglines is “Mostly void, partially stars.”
To get the partially-stars look, I used Loops and Threads Payette – an acrylic with a running lurex thread and small paillettes (flat sequins). Both inspiration and enablement are courtesy of Long Time Needlework Pal Kathryn, who sent this stuff to me. Just seeing it sparkling at me kicked off this project. Kathryn’s initial intent was to knit socks from the Payette, but that effort was a no-go. And rightly so. The stuff is not fun to work with, and would make supremely uncomfortable socks. The base black yarn is waxy feeling. The lurex thread breaks easily and is scratchy, and the paillettes can make stitch formation difficult – especially on decreases. Oh, and forget about ripping this stuff back. The lurex snaps. But the look can’t be beat, especially for a big-box-store available yarn.
Yarn aside, this project is a great quick-knit. Both mitts together took two evenings. I used the Payette doubled, and knit the smallest size, which fits perfectly. The only change I made to the original design is eliminating the bulk of cast-on and cast-off. To begin, I work a figure-8 or provisional cast-on. When I get to the last row before the cuff welt, I reactivate the bottom stitches and fold them up, knitting one bottom edge stitch along with its live pre-cuff counterpart. This melds the bottom into the work, and eliminates the final bit of sewing up, and cuts down on pre-cuff bulk.
To cast-off, instead of making a finished edge and then sewing it down, I leave a long tail and fold the live edge inside the work. Then I use that to secure each last-row stitch to its counterpart in the first row after the fancy welting on the upper edge.
Final verdict – the kid loves these. The original design’s pretty welt and eyelet detail is lost in the sequined look and it’s over the top sparkly. But it fits in perfectly with the Nightvale-inspired theme.
Next on the needles is a new scarf for Elder Daughter. As I mentioned in the last post, I’m enchanted by Sybil R’s designs and was determined to make one or another of them. At first we contemplated a different scarf, but rummaging through my stash, we came up with yarn better suited to her Mixed Wave Cowl, an exercise in nested short row enhanced stripes. Here you see the bare beginnings of mine:
I’m using an eclectic mix of well-aged stash denizens, plus a more recent variegated yarn seen here in a rather blue-shifted photo. The black and russet are both Lang Jawoll bought who-knows-when. The claret (again not as purple as it looks here) is Froehlich Wolle Special Blauband, which I’m pretty sure I had when we moved back to Boston in ‘95. The variegated scarf thingy is Regia Creativ one of the unravel-me-and-knit dyed strips, in a mix of autumn colors including chocolate, russet, claret, and burnt orange. The pattern is written for DK, on rather small 3.5mm needles. I’m using fingering-weight sock yarn on 3.0mm needles, which is making a slightly looser fabric.
More on this one as it grows…
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.
Two progress status reports today!
First is the Trifles sampler, in progress as a dorm gift to Younger Daughter, who will need such a thing in a year or so. (I have given myself lots of time for completion). As you can see, the motto is finished, using four different alphabets from Ramzi’s Sajou collection. I’ve played with them somewhat, working in the gold color accents, which are not marked as a secondary color on the charts.
I have also stitched in two small Daleks, to comply with her request, stitched in gold and off white silks. I am up to the surround now. I had originally planned to stitch lots of linear strips, patterns from my upcoming book, but as I alluded to before – I have been seized by Another Idea. The small stitched area just getting underway next to the T of TRIFLES is the beginning. I am going to make an interlocking and overlying mesh of gears of various sizes and configurations, each outlined in a heavier non-counted stitch, but filled in using the geometrics found in my Ensamplario Atlantio. I’ll be using coordinating fall colors for these – a bit of the brown and gold from the alphabet, but also cranberry, silver, and possibly a deep green. The total effect should be rather Steampunk, and a lot of fun.
However as much fun as this piece is, necessity intrudes. A friend of mine is welcoming a baby come the turn of the year. She’s expressed a fondness for traditional baby colors, so I am knitting up a small baby blanket for her. It will be car-seat and basket sized, not crib or reception size, so it is going quite quickly.
I’m using Encore Colorspun worsted, an acrylic/wool mix for maximum washability, this being a baby blanket and all. I’m knitting it on US 10.5 (6.5mm), which is relatively large for worsted in order to bring out the lacy stitch pattern. The stitch pattern itself is adapted from an 18-stitch-wide strip pattern appearing in Knitted Lace Patterns of Christine Duchrow, Volume I. I’ve chosen the narrow strip so that the gradual color changes pool, rather than speckling across the rows. I’ve also chosen to work the stripes horizontally because I only have four balls of this yarn. If I had run the piece the long way I might have risked running out before I reached a useful width. By fixing my width, I can keep going until I have just enough to do an edging, or I can find a coordinating pink or off-white Encore for the edging, if there isn’t enough of the graded color yarn. And finally, being a lazy person and not wanting to sew the strips together, I am using the long-loop join method I learned while working Fania Letouchnaya’s Forest Path Stole to knit the strips together as I march along.
Oh, and yes – those are massively long DPNs – about 12 inches long. I really like extra long DPNs for hats and sleeves, and generally don’t use circulars for anything less than 20 or so inches around. As a result I’ve got a collection of these admittedly unusual needles.
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.
Quality ironwork,, armoring, weapons work, and smithery fascinate me. Especially wrought, as opposed to cast iron. I am also fond of arms and armor. The precision, tracery, and especially the contrast between the hard medium and delicate forms speaks to me, with parallels to textiles and couturier design. Oh and the elements of fire and danger. Let’s not forget the purpose…
While there were many other famous textile examples on display at the Victoria & Albert Museum, The Tower of London, and the British Museum, most of my embroidery and stitching readers have already seen them. They’re the examples presented in just about every textbook or reference work on stitching. Instead, I’d like to take a cross-craft side trip and look at some of the things we saw that are less well known or documented in the hope of kindling some cross-pollination.
Today is wrought iron. The V&A has a magnificent hall of ironwork. How could one not adore this dolphin, so much like a calligraphic image?
It is one of a pair. The V&A’s citation is Number 280:7-8-1879, and from that citation, it is dated 1520-1530, of Spanish origin, by Juan Francés, part of a larger altar screen.
I also love this pair of window grilles:
The thin bars that form the center diamonds are all independently forged to the frame and are formed and spaced with great precision. The contrast of geometric and organic traceries in the side triangles and arch are blackwork in iron. This piece is V&A Number 125-c-1879, from Italy, dated 1575-1600.
I fell down on the job and didn’t get the annotation for this piece, and I can’t find it in the on-line photo collection to provide provenance and date, but it’s in the same gallery as the grille above.
The play of curves and symmetry fights with my mental preconception of iron as unyielding and linear.
Finally two figural pieces. Fear the iron chicken, and the lion key-master!
The weathercock is French, dated around 1700-1725, made of wrought iron and copper. It’s Museum number 909:1 to 3-1906, and bears evidence of gilt and polychrome finishes. The wrought iron locksmith’s standard is German, dated around 1760 to 1800, and is Museum Number 545-1869. I would have thought that elements of the lion would have been cast iron, but no – they’re all wrought.
Now – why the side trip through metalwork? Because I want to show that the aesthetics of historical embroidery are even better appreciated in context. The forms of the late locksmith sign mimic those of Rococo laces and goldwork stitching. The earlier grilles echo contrasts, shapes and lines of Italian and French strapwork embroidery, done at around the same time.
Finally, imagine the shadows thrown by those window grilles – sitting in the afternoon sun made lace as it sifts through the iron, stitching oh-so-similar shapes until it is too dark to see.
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.