Mary Corbet over at Needle n’ Thread has just posted an interesting piece contrasting tambour needle produced chain stitch with the same stitch produced by a traditional threaded needle. She notes the speed, density and coverage factor of tambour stitching. I present a truly huge sample to corroborate her observations.
I have an entire room-size floor carpet done in tambour work.
For those of you who don’t know what tambour is, it’s a method of producing an even embroidery stitch with a chained appearance, by plunging a hook through a base fabric, catching a loop of decorative thread, then repeating the process to create a line. The hook used (called arhi, here) looks a bit like a fine crochet hook, but the end of the hook is a bit more pointed, to make piercing the ground fabric easier. Mary offers up some excellent discussions of the technique, so I’ll skip doing so.
In any case, Mary’s piece made me think about the rug we recently purchased:
This piece is roughly 6’ x 9’ (1.8 x 2.7 meters). Everything you see here is stitching. The white cotton ground is totally covered by vibrant, dense-pack chain stitch in jewel colored cotton:
By getting close up with my gauge square, I can see that the stitch count varies between 10 and 12 stitches per inch, with the longer stitches being in the plain areas like the simple straight pink and brown runs at the bottom of the detail, above. For width, about three rows of stitching equals 1/3 of an inch, with the longer stitch areas being a bit narrower in addition to leggier. Perhaps the less skilled stitchers were assigned the boring border areas, and the more skilled artisans did the intricate motifs. In any case, because of the variability of stitch length and some small mistakes here and there, I am pretty confident that this rug was done by hand and not with a sewing machine.
If I flex the heavy canvas ground cloth, I can see some pencil lines behind the stitching that mark off major design areas, but not every area or motif is indicated. Finally, the entire piece is backed with another layer of cotton sheeting, slightly thinner than the natural color ground cloth.
Our rug came from the Kashmiri area further north, the source of so many of the handcrafts available here in Pune. It’s a bit unusual because this type of stitching is more commonly done in wool. Namdas for example, are tambour stitched rugs worked in wool (or sometimes today, wool/acrylic blend or even cotton) on a felted wool ground cloth. I’ve seen them both here, and occasionally in import stores in the US.
Back to our carpet – how long did it take to make? Tambour is speedy, but 6’ x 9’ is a huge amount of handwork. The crafts merchant who sold it to us said that these pieces were the product of family manufacture. It typically takes several people (I’m thinking four to six, more can’t easily fit around the cloth to work) about two weeks to make one this size. I base this on the fact that he says one family can produce between two and four big pieces per month. Ours was one of the largest. Most of the other samples of cotton tambour were about half this size. To my stitcher’s eye, ours was also the most accomplished of the four available cotton rugs. It was the most evenly and densely stitched, with the best color balance and patterning.
The stitched surface is holding up nicely to moderate traffic, although we are careful with it. We do not wear shoes in the house, and I do not subject this piece to the vacuum. Instead I light surface sweep with a soft plastic broom, and supplement that with occasional shake-outs. Thankfully, nothing has spilled on it. Yet.
We bought this piece because we fell in love with the brilliant color, intricate patterning; and because I appreciated the skill that it took to produce, and the magnitude of labor it represents. It’s time and care, rendered in cotton, and will be one of my favorite keepsakes, long after we return home.
I was wandering through the free-for-public-use pictures collection recently opened up by the National Archive of the Netherlands, looking for interesting photos of needlework or knitting. “Merklap” is the Dutch word for sampler. Using it, I stumbled across these:
Clicking on each image above will bring you to the original archive site, complete with a very useful zoom feature for close inspection.
Now, from what I understand from the captions, these three unusual counted thread pieces were stitched by Her Majesty, Queen Ingrid of Denmark, consort to King Frederick IX of Denmark. The archives captions says that the three samplers bear images relevant to her life with her parents, King Gustav VI of Sweden, and Princess Margaret of Connaught, and the photos were collected in 1954 (One of the pieces bears a date of 11 November 1952.)
Queen Ingrid was born in 1910 and died in 2000. Reading through the bio snips available, she was an early feminist and thoroughly remarkable woman, widely respected for personal courage and support of the Danish people during the German occupation of Denmark during World War II.
Historical context aside, just look at those motifs! Worked in double running or back stitch, with the background done in cross stitch, the items shown are full of exquisite detail. That horse in the center of the second sampler is on my list for regraphing, for sure. I love the humor, the juxtaposition of high heraldry and honors with the totally mundane.
The first sampler bears Swedish heraldry (the three crowns), and honors her parents. The other two seem to be about her own life and interests, with her seal, and images of her education, sports and leisure activities; and pursuits including art, biology, horticulture (she redid many formal gardens), geology, and antiquities. How can you not be charmed by a Queen who stitches a box of spaghetti, fishing lures, a pilot’s wings, Canasta cards, and a cabin in the woods?
In short, Ingrid may have been a highly influential and important person, but these pieces now offered up to the public make an instant connection to her as an individual with curiosity, energy, and humor. I’ll seek out some better books on her life and times. And I’ll think of her the next time I have spaghetti with a salad, with candy canes (polka grisar) for dessert.
Today I try to appease both my constituencies – stitchers and knitters.
First, for the knitters, I make confession that I’ve been seduced. I recently came into possession of a true one-skein wonder, two balls of Skacel’s Zauberball Crazy. One is an addled mix of red, turquoise, yellow and green (#1701), the other is chocolate, teal, cranberry and according to the official photo, on the inside somewhere – tan (#1507). It’s a lofty and soft fingering weight, 100g/459 yards per ball, enough to knit a pair of socks for me. Here are Skacel’s own photos of the two, at a color fidelity much better than I could achieve:
But looking at this stuff made me want to do something other than socks. Given the number of variables in play right now, I decided I didn’t want to take time to design my own pattern, so I began poking around the ‘net and found the Wingspan scarf. I’m working up this variant. It’s all garter stitch, with the demonstrative shaping formed by short rows. You can see the play of the extra long color repeat even in this traditional blurry String snap, taken at dawn:
A quick knit, totally on autopilot, with a clever system of traveling markers that make it impossible to make a mistake. More on this as the thing grows.
And on the Big Green Sampler, I’m inching along the fiddly bits at the bottom edge, filling in my voiding. The tightly drawn two-sided Italian cross stitch goes more quickly in an open field. Around these odd little bits – especially the Y-shaped extensions in the top and bottom borders (a detail done exactly this way in the museum original) – it’s a slow and exacting ride:
The little empty rectangles at the base of each Y are especially tricky to leave unworked. Still, I am making incremental progress none the less.
Now, why did I start the knitting project?
Compulsion. Plain and simple. I do 98% of my yarn acquisition at Wild & Woolly, my local yarn shop – a heaven on earth for knitters. But driving across the state to drop Elder Daughter off at college put me within striking distance of Webs, the Northampton, MA yarn hypermarket. My rule is not to buy stuff elsewhere that I can find locally, so Younger Daughter and I took a quick jaunt through the place looking for stand-outs – things I haven’t seen anywhere else.
That’s where I was attacked by the Zauberball. It fairly leapt of the shelf in a direct assault on my magpie color sense. It’s hard to describe this compulsion to a non-crafter. I HAD to get it, and I HAD to find something good to knit with it, and I HAD to cast on right away. That’s the way the best projects work – the absolute mandate to watch the piece take shape. Time flies on its own. Any encountered problems melt away. I look down and see more done than I realized was happening. Oddly enough, the final product while valued, is not the goal. It’s the process, the journey, the materials, and the sense of progress.
I’ll split my time between these two. Maybe I’ll figure out something myself to do with Zauberball #2. Or maybe not. But in any case, both balls have to be cooked, chewed and digested before I return to normal.