Sunday, February 23, 2014

Void work with an extra

One of the pieces I saw during my visit to the Philadelphia Museum of Art was this one, Accession Number 1894-30-116.  This piece includes some lovely drawn thread open work.

The current text for this piece (revised during my visit based on our discussions) place the piece as late 16th Century Italian. The ground is linen plain weave.  As seen in the photos below, it is a relatively rough fabric.  The red void work embroidery appears to be four sided stitch which has not been drawn up tightly.  The outline of the design is in back or straight stitches.  The open work is drawn thread work with the stitching done with either silk or linen thread.  The museum's listing sets it as silk, but I lean towards linen because of the difference in the appearance from the red silk, which appears to be made of numerous plies of very fine flat or filament silk, creating a thread slightly thicker than the ground fabric threads. Stitches are worked roughly "over 4."

The filling stitches in the open work bear a strong resemblance to the birds eye filling used in modern Hardanger, although the bars look wrapped rather than woven.  For comparison, see this two page guide on the Nordic Needle website.

During my visit the curator and I had a lively discussion regarding this piece as well as the others.  I was pleased that some of my input was used to revise and expand the description they originally had.  These pieces are now being labeled as having "void-work embroidery."

As I sit to examine my notes and photos, I am developing a list of questions on each piece.  A return visit may need to be made for a more complete study of these pieces to be offered.

A picture of a large portion of the piece

Some repair has been done

Through the magnifier. Some of the cutwork wrapping has fallen or broken away

Wednesday, February 19, 2014


We all have that first remembered experience with our art.  Love of textiles started for me with an article in a Woman's Day back when I was in Middle School.  From that article I learned to crochet.  Well, I had some help -- I figured out the stitches, but when I moved to my first project, a poncho, I had trouble with the whole "join in a circle without twisting" portion of the pattern. My mother took me to the local yarn shop (long gone of course) where, despite the fact that nothing I was using had been purchased there, they lovely ladies showed me how to take my very long chain and pin it to a pillow to keep it from twisting while I stitched the first few rounds.  They also gave me the very important pointer of using a safety pin to mark the rounds.  I rarely looked back (though I did quickly move to thread crochet -- even back then I gravitated to the thinner, finer, smaller work whenever possible.

I believe that was not my first fiber art -- I'm sure there was some embroidery before that.  It was, however, my first experience of someone (not related to me) sitting down with me to help me learn -- that was the beginning of sharing what I learn.

What can I show you or help you with?

Sunday, February 16, 2014

A quick post.

This weekend I had the opportunity to do some teaching at an event in the Boston area.  I taught Introduction to Applique and Bayeux Stitch Embroidery.

A modified version of the Applique  handout is available at my website (see link to the right), and the Bayeux one will be put up there next week. 

The applique class was full (10 students) and everyone walked out with a needlebook well started.  The Bayeux class was about half full, and I think everyone got to play at least a little bit with each of the stitches.  I really need to re-think how I teach that class (again), to try to get everyone to the point of comfort with all the elements.  I found myself wishing I had the full time (hour and a half) with each person individually.

I firmly believe that studying historic needlework, and doing work based on that study are important, but teaching is also important.  It is not enough that we learn by studying and by doing, but we need to share what we have learned. 

The samples from my class
Below are some photos of students' work.  The class had 10 students, but as often happens, we ran right to the end of our hour, so I did not get photos of everyone's work in progress.

  One student provided these photos of her completed needlebook.  The "E" for the reverse side was her own design.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Snow delay

This week's post has been delayed by the brain-eating snow. That snow has, however, also meant plenty of knitting time. My most recent project, a baby blanket for a friend from my old job, has come off the needles.  Here it is, pre-blocking.  I love the little leaves.  I chose a nice neutral color super soft baby yarn.  Coming soon, blocking.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Some of my own work

Well, that was quite a week.  Three days out of the office for the weather (two because the office had no power).  At least I got to do some embroidery.  Like many artisans I know, I always have multiple projects running.  Here is an update on one of them:

"The Marshall Hanging" A piece based on the Bayeux Tapestry, though of course much smaller.  It depicts my husband and myself, with items of our arts (a cooking vessel for him, an embroidery frame for me), with other pieces pulled from the Bayeux.  This large piece rests on a pair of sawhorses when I am working on it. During one of the extra days off this week, I got most of the outlining done on the figure representing me -- just need to finish the one hand and the shoes. All those threads are the ends, which I'll weave in when there is more on the back to weave them into.

I also have one of the little animal figures done.  This little guy is in the bottom border.

Clearly I am going to have to use the regular camera for the photos for this piece, the mobile phone camera makes the ground fabric look very funky!

I also have a "portable" project or two going -- some embroidery on a tunic, a handkerchief in double running, and roll hemming a new veil. 

Do you find yourself with multiple projects in the works or concentrate on just one until it is done? 

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

A Knitting Milestone

Recently I had a fantastic experience with my knitting.  While working on a lace shawl, I suddenly hit the point that I was no longer simply following the instructions, I understood what the different stitches and yarn overs were doing.  This increased my understanding of the structure of the piece.  On a later piece, I found that understanding the structure of the piece also helped to "read" the piece to find an error -- before it reached the "give it up as lost" stage.

Certainly a milestone to celebrate!

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Void Work at Philadelphia

Early in January I had the opportunity to visit the textile study room at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. I enjoyed a session of six beautiful pieces of void work embroidery. Over several posts I will talk about some of those pieces.  I have only begun to study my photos, and some thoughts may change as I study in more depth, and more importantly, as I try to work pieces in the same manner. 

One of the pieces, accession number 1894-30-111 is one of three that can be seen on the museum's website. The on-line notation, found at this link lists the piece as "14th or 15th Century," however, the Textile Department's internal cataloging information has updated that to 16th Century.

As with the other pieces of this type, the linen ground is embroidered with red silk threads. This piece features  more open ground stitching, a tightly pulled Two Sided Italian Cross stitch. Access to the back of the piece showed that the outline of the design -- also red, not a contrasting color -- has the reversibility commonly found with double running stitch. Stitches used within the void work, providing detail, appear to be straight stitches or back stitches. The linen is moderately roughly woven, and the thread is quite thick and covers the ground well.  The stitches are tightly pulled to create the open background. At 16 3/4 x 4 1/8 inches, enough of the piece exists to see one full repeat.

Here are a couple of my close photos of the piece:

Taken at a slight angle, this photo shows the thickness of the red silk threads

Where stitches add detail to the void design, they are not pulled.

Through a linen tester held above the piece.