THE UNSTITCHED COIF TAKES A ROAD TRIP
Obviously I am still working on the Unstitched Coif project, and have a bit of progress over the past week or so. I might have had more, but we went to visit family in Buffalo, New York (about a 7.5 hour drive from Boston if you make no stops), and were too busy over the five days for me to steal more than an hour or two to stitch. We did have a great time, and got lots done – just not stitchy stuff.
I will report though that working outside in bright sunlight, even when sitting in the shade is the best illumination I’ve found. For those who look at fine stitching and wonder how folk in the pre-indoor lighting eras did it by firelight, candlelight, or tucked up next to a window, I would suggest that relying on natural sunshine is not a handicap at all, although it is time-limited by its very nature.
Yes, I am sitting in my mother-in-law’s garden, working the design upside-down. It’s upside-down for no other reason than when I first put my frame in the stand it happened to be in that orientation. I’ve just continued on that way. When work on the next vertical swath I may flip it over, but for now I’m just marching to the edge, which is now only a few design elements away.
Here are two clear progress shots, first showing the whole area I’ve done (about half of the first pattern sheet as displayed magnet-tacked to my work, above). Plus a detail shot of the latest bits.
A second, larger bird has joined the first, along with the multi-petal flower with its leaf, the rather odd looking columbine (the bit with the three gold petal ends) and some of the foliage, curls, and spangles that surround them. I’m now working on the first of two large grape leaves below the columbine. This area features some larger shapes to fill and I am having lots of fun with them by using some larger, more complex fills. The interlace currently being worked in the grape leaf looks complicated, but once the rhythm of the thing is started, it’s really quite logical.
And I am still on target for not repeating a fill between units. With one tiny exception, while the same fill design may appear more than once in a pattern element like a flower or a bug where a design may inhabit more than one petal or body segment, once that element is done I consider that fill to be “burned” and have not repeated it again. I suspect this will be more of a challenge as I move along, especially in the smallest spaces where there is little play for the more complex repeats.
In any case, I wish I were further along, but I’m also pleased with the progress to date. Gotta stitch faster, I guess…
UNSTITCHED COIF PROJECT – THE DESIGN
Our Fearless Leader, Toni Buckby, has given permission for participants to share the original image and the design from it she has derived and provided for the Unstitched Coif project. I am doing this as an echo for convenience of the project itself, since the we have been requested NOT to share links to the in-group project repository. Since this design is not my own and is totally subject to project rules, I will remove this post when and if requested.
First – the project’s photo of V&A accession number T.844-1974, Click here or on the image below.
Now the print-me files that make up Ms. Buckby’s rendition of the coif’s pattern. Click on the links below to open these PDF files, then save them locally. Note that they are formatted for A4 size paper. That’s a bit longer than standard US letter size. For best results, print on A4 at the presented size (don’t shrink in the print process), then tile the pieces together. There’s enough overlap to make this quite easy.
The official project website is here.
As for my own progress, there’s a tiny bit since the last post. But what’s always striking to me is how the designs bloom once the outlines are added. Compare!
Yes, I am working the design upside down right now. That little bug on the right is not supposed to be seen doing handstands.
AND WE HAVE THE FIRST BUG!
Not to worry, it’s not a computer or programming glitch. It’s completion of the first bug on my rendition of the Unstitched Coif project. The bugs, birds and other inhabitants of this flowery sprawl are especially fun to work.
I may add a tiny motif in his “collar,” it seems a bit bare; and I may go back and darken up the bug body to get better contrast against the wings. But I do like the opposing directionality of the coil pattern on the wings. I am also still debating the density of the paillette spangles. Thinking on their original use, to provide both sparkle in dim interiors and by candlelight, and to signal the wealth of the wearer, packing them in for max bling seems right. However I know to modern eyes the look in full artificial light is cluttered, and I’ve gotten feedback accordingly. We’ll see.
As to new bits in execution – the bug’s eyes are also the same 2mm paillettes, but instead of being affixed with three little gold color faux silk stitches, they are held on with large French knots in the center. I thought about using beads, I have a large seed bead stash that I’ve kept since the 1960s. It came to me jumbled, and my sisters helped sort some of it out. I picked out three candidate colors – black glass, clear glass with gold foil centers, and an opalescent black/metallic glass, and have been experimenting with them both with and without the spangles underneath. You can see below how much better the flat spangle and French knot looks.
I haven’t ruled out using beads yet. There are some bugs with especially tiny faces. I might use them for the eyes of those. They are ever so slightly smaller than the paillettes, but not by much. But French knots may be the solution there, too.
In other developments, my kit has expanded. Thanks to the insight and generosity of long time friend and needlework confidante Kathryn Goodwyn (who took pity on me and came to the rescue) I now have a small clip on light for supplemental illumination. Kathryn says she found it in a Dollar Store (a low price bargain outlet for my UK visitors). I will probably jury rig a thin wooden yardstick across the top edge of my frame later on, as I get closer to the center of the piece and need the extra light there.
Another materials improvement to report. I have switched threads for the fills. I had been using YLI 100, doubled. One strand was too thin, but two looked a bit muddy. I am now using Au Ver à Soie’s Soie Surfine and I like the line and angles better. I won’t tell you when/where I switched, and I don’t think you’ll be able to spot it. Although the two approaches are very close in total width, the Surfine does stitch more smoothly and works up more evenly.
In addition, I attended the first Zoom meet-up for the project yesterday. Toni Buckby, our Fearless Leader did a great thumbnail intro to blackwork in general. its stylistic evolution over time, and the coif project in specific. We were truly inspired to plunge on in, or continue depending on our start status. There were enthusiastic folk in attendance from the UK, US, Canada, and New Zealand (that individual is truly dedicated, considering that it was 1:00am there at the time). It was fun to meet up, share questions, and generally get to know each other.
As promised, I did ask about plans to make the drawing of the coif accessible at the project website. Ms. Buckby assured us that it will be, although the website is still under construction, and it isn’t there right now. But if you do pop by, you’ll see a few of the V&A’s fantastic collection of blackwork artifacts, plus her invaluable hand drawn charts for the specific geometric fills used on them.
I admit the large cushion (V&A Accession T.81-1924) at the top of the official project page brings back wonderful memories.
A blurry image of that artifact was the first bit of blackwork I stumbled across, in Mary Thomas’s Embroidery Book. I was smitten, and shortly thereafter I had need of a special gift for he who would eventually become my Resident Male. Although I had already graphed up and stitched a number of sampler bands from book photos, I took the plunge into blackwork with no guidance other than Mary Thomas, and produced this. It’s now very well worn, and the needle lace around the edges is quite frayed, but for something stitched in the spring of 1975, on muslin, using mostly the wrong stitches, it’s not entirely discreditable.
After that there my fate was sealed.
My blackwork underskirt forepart (left and centers) – stitched in Fall 1976-Spring 1977. My Forever Coif, started in Spring 1990 and still unfinished.
UNSTITCHED COIF PROJECT DEVELOPMENTS – NEEDLES AND OFFICIAL SITE
Your periodic Unstitched Coif project update post!
First some progress on my own rendition. Having established my vocabulary, I’m gaining momentum, aided in part by The Right Tool.
The Right Tool? My size #12 rounded point beading needles finally arrived! What’s the difference? In the photo below, a standard John James brand size #28 gold finish tapestry needle is above, and a #12 blunt point beading needle from the same maker is below.
The beading needle is less than half the thickness of the tapestry needle, and it has a much smaller eye and more pronounced end taper. While that does make it harder to thread, it also makes the thread less likely to fall out of the eye while stitching. And that thin shaft and point are small enough to slip between the threads of the 70+ count linen I am using without distorting them. I said before that shoving the (comparatively) large point of the #28 through this weave was like passing a pencil through the mesh of a screen window, and I wasn’t kidding. The very rounded point and larger diameter made it hard to “stay on target” and hit the exact between-thread spot that needs to be pierced, and the thicker shaft, especially at the eye distorts the weave as it moves through, making subsequent counts close by all the more difficult.
So if you are working this project, or in fact any project on an extremely fine count ground, spare yourself, your eyes, and your fingers grief, and grab a #12. You will be happier, and more speedy for it.
Now the big news here isn’t my new needles or my minor progress. It’s that the official website for the group, blackworkembroidery.org has gone live! Right now it’s still pretty sparse, with a lovely selection of artifact links to blackwork pieces in the V&A’s collection, and some graphed fill stitches. I suspect that the content will blossom over time. But the best part is that it includes a link to a Discord chat group, dedicated to the Unstitched Coif project! I’ll be taking advantage of that under the user name Rotangus (the name I use on Discord for gaming forums), but I will wait to post until Toni Buckby, our Fearless Leader, posts. But I hope to be part of the conversations there.