Sunday, April 6, 2014

Tiny stitches?

It was a bad week for textile work and thought.  I did a little embroidery (got the double running portion of my travel piece, discussed here, done) and nothing in the way of research or study.

Instead, I will talk about a piece seen in a museum, more or less randomly from my photos. The more-or-less random selection is Fragment at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. It is a 14th to 15th century wool applique from Islamic Egypt. The museum's info does not indicate what it is or where it was used.  The threads at the top make me thing that it was maybe inset in a larger piece. What I find really striking is the size of the couching threads.  When we do applique today, we take little bitty stitches so that they don't show.  But even in this piece they don't show much, until you get pretty close.  

From a distance it looks relatively neat.
 Then, when you get a closer look, you start to really see those couching threads.
Finally, up close, the threads are quite obvious (as are the overhead lights in the study room in the glass over the piece). 

When a piece is going to be seen only from a distance (a banner or a hanging maybe), perhaps the important thing is to get it done and have it secure. 

Something to think about... as I make my tiny stitches to keep my work neat.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Not always red.

It is true, of course, that many examples of void work embroidery are red (including the two I've already discussed at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, here and here).  In fact, red is such a predominant color for "Assisi" work that some manuals will specifically say that it is always red.

Not so.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art has on display a fantastic piece in blue and yellow. Yup, blue and yellow. Blue outlines and defines the figures and yellow fills the ground.  It's a lovely large piece and I visit it every time I'm up there.   It is this piece (accession number 51.61.2).  Trust me.  The photo on their website is black and white, but the piece is in blue and yellow silk on linen

Every time I visit the piece I find something different to enjoy.  The fat little putti, the lovely leaves, the stems, the fringe on the bottom and one edge.

One visit my husband found me bouncing, just a little bit -- kind of rocking up on my toes and coming back down.  I had just realized that I could identify at least three different "hands" or embroiderers' work in the piece.  It is a large piece (53 1/2 inches long),  and this suggests that it was done in a workshop.

So, if you have a chance to go to the Met, go to Gallery 503 and visit my favorite piece.

Why, yes, I have taken many pictures.  Here are a couple:
Taken at an angle next to the case, showing some of the length
The bottom left corner, showing the lovely fringe
A section of the leaf design, look at those darling animals

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Working and teaching

Saturday was the SCA event Mudthaw.  This year I participated as part of the "Artisans' Row" -- a gathering of artisans working on projects and teaching about their arts. I was set up with my Bayeux Tapestry inspired piece.  I only had one student for learning embroidery, but many people stopped by to talk about both my piece and the Bayeux Tapestry in general.

I discussed different aspects with different people, but there were some common points:

  • My piece is the same approximate height as the original, per information in most of the descriptive books about the Bayeux Tapestry;
  • my motifs are the same approximate size as those on the original, thanks to the fact that the David Wilson book provides information about their reproduction percentage (photocopy motifs in that book at 185% for approximate actual size;
  • the woman in my design is actually larger than the woman she is taken from...all three women in the original Bayeux Tapestry are smaller than the men around them.  I am modern enough that that was not going to happen.
Here I am working on the piece.  Because of all the talk time (which was great), I didn't get a lot of stitching done, but some did get done.  (Later I also worked on my double running basket cover and did get a fair amount of that done, I expect it to be in the "done" column soon). 

Monday, March 17, 2014

The return of Medici

Several years ago, DMC disappointed us all by announcing they would no longer be producing Medici crewl weight thread.  This is the wool thread that many people (of which I am one) use for Bayeux style laid and couched work.  I quickly laid in a large supply of the colors I am using for my Bayeux inspired piece (first discussed in this post). 

Recently I learned that another company is making Medici thread.  According to the folks at Threadneedle Street, the thread comes from the same source that DMC used, is being spun at the same mill DMC used and is dyed using DMC's dye formulas. Threadneedle has a full page about the Medici, here.  Most of the original DMC colors are being made again, although some have been discontinued and some new ones have been added. The page lists all the colors and indicates which ones are no longer being made and which are new -- by color number only. Sadly, color charts are not available at this time and the photo they have up of 13 new colors is not in number order, and the colors are not necessarily accurate. 

Of course, I had to order some.  I called on Friday afternoon (for me, it was morning for them in Washington State) and spoke with Denise Davis.  I could have ordered on their secure ordering system, but I wanted to talk about the new colors a little bit.  I ordered one each of the colors I am using in my Bayeux piece, and then asked her to send me three of the new colors.  Based on the photo that is on their website I asked for the yellow, the medium blue and the lavender.

The threads arrived today.  (See, I knew there was a reason I didn't post yesterday).  Below are some comparison shots of the duplicated colors.  The three new ones are a bit different from the colors on their website, and I have not yet photographed them; they are lovely as well, though.

I think the colors are very close, with what difference there is being less than one might find in dye lot differences.  A couple are spot on and a couple are just that "little bit" different. That does not worry me, though.  As long as I don't mix skeins in one motif I don't the miniscule difference will matter.  Certainly having threads be slightly different is within the realm of possibility for period work -- I doubt that all of any one color used on the Bayeux Tapestry was dyed at the same time!

And now, for some pictures:

First, a shot of five of the colors.  The original on the left and the new on the right of each pair.

The next four shots are of each pair, in the same order, left to right.  Original on the bottom, new on the top.


Finally, some close ups.  

There are five pre cut strands in each 25 meter skein (approx. 27.3 yards)

Here, a comparison -- the new on top and the original below.

Finally, through a magnifier.  Again, new on top, original below. 

I'll do some stitching with some of the new this weekend and report back on my impressions, but so far, I think I'm going to be very happy.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Fingerless Mitts

I've come to really enjoy fingerless mitts.  I've made several pairs.  They're quick to knit and small enough to carry in my purse.  The rounds are short also so they're perfect for picking up while waiting in line or in a doctor's office.

Not long ago I finished these little fingerless mitts. They were from a kit I purchased last year at the Kentucky Sheep and Fiber festival.  They're short, and the thumb is just an opening.  The top barely covers the knuckles.  They're just perfect for those days when I'm typing a lot which always seems to make my wrists get cold.  I was concerned that the beads would bother my wrists when typing, but they have not.  The pattern is Melody Fingerless Mittens by Kathryn Ashley-Wright and can be found on Ravelry. This pair is from brown Jojoland Melody Superwash.

Another pair recently finished is these purple and blue ones. They really should be blocked to show the lovely slightly lacy pointed design at the cuff, but I haven't done it yet. The pattern is "Short n Sweet Fingerless Mitts" by Anne Sahakian (also available through Ravelry). The yarn is Patons Kroy Socks FX in "Cameo."  It is the same yarn I used for my "Afternoon Tea" shawl -- the top part of it anyway.  When I made the shawl I had only one skein of the yarn so I finished the shawl with a coordinating solid.  Later I found more of the multi yarn so I was able to make these mitts -- and I have enough to make socks to go with the ensemble as well.  This pair comes up higher on my fingers, and more thumb to it.  I enjoyed making this pair, although if I do the pattern again I will alter the ribbing at the top of the fingers and the thumb, it was much too "fiddly."

Here's a picture of the shawl while it was still on the blocking wires.

The pictures don't make it clear, they really do work well together.

I expect I'll make more fingerless mitts.  They're quick and easy and very useful at work. I find I like having them even on the hottest days of the summer as my hands and wrists often get cold during long sessions at the keyboard. 

Sunday, March 9, 2014

A Post of Things to Come

There hasn't been much fiber work in the past couple of weeks as I prepared an event that I ran yesterday, so this is pretty much a promise post.   However, over the next few weeks there should be plenty to post about, since I'm really itching to get back to some stitching.

This week, I expect that my Bayeux inspired piece will be set up for work in the evenings, and I'll have it at Mudthaw (SCA East Kingdom event, March 22).  There are also a few more pieces from my trip to the Philadelphia Museum of Art to talk about, and some work inspired thereby to be planned.

Meanwhile, please accept this random photo of past work, which may or may not be a hint to something currently in the stew pot of ideas for future mischief I always have simmering.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Blocking done

I finally blocked the baby blanket that I recently finished.  

For a blocking surface, I have these wonderful foam pads (just have to keep them locked away from our one cat, who is strangely attacted to them.  Knitpicks sells some purple ones, but I got mine at Harbor Freight -- they were being sold as floor mats for making a workshop floor more comfortable.  I'm pretty sure these are larger than the ones sold by KP, and the price was reasonable. The ones I have are nice and large, so I can make a good area for blocking. 

The mats have a textured side and a smooth side, I assemble them with the smooth side up. I also have (not pictured) a set of brightly colored smaller ones that I got in the toy department of Wal-Mart, though I haven't seen them there since.  They are usually sold as play mat puzzle pieces.  Guess it would have been too much to ask for them to have the same cut outs as the ones from Harbor Freight. bit but they'll do in a pinch if I ever need a *really big* blocking area.

I lay something over the assembled mats to guard against any color bleed (a practice I started when I only had the brightly colored mats).  I use either a clean towel or, as I did here, some white fleece I had left from an old project. It doesn't cover the mats, but it is big enough for the piece being blocked.

Once I have the mats laid out and covered, I started by inserting my blocking wires in the  edges.  Generally sold for lace blocking, I found these to be an excellent aid for blocking this little blanket -- it made it easier to get the edges nice and straight. First, just the wires
Then, I started pinning. I started at the corners working diagonally. Standing from the camera angle, first the close left corner, then the far right corner, then the far left then the close right.  Next, I placed pins in the middles of the sides, pulling gently to pull the piece out to the  size and shape intended.  You can see the difference already.  I didn't start with a wet blanket for this one, once it was stretched and pinned, I sprayed it with water until it was quite damp.  Then, left it alone for two days.
 One of the corners, showing how the blocking wires make it easy to square them up.

The blocking really made the leaf design show up well.

Released from the wires

No wires, no pins.

Ready to have the ends woven in and to be packed up for presentation.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Travel work

The Bayeux inspired piece is wonderful and a piece that I'm enjoying greatly -- but it is not very portable.  Sometimes my "toss it in the tote bag" project is something modern (like the baby blanket I recently finished), but I tend to also have something historically inspired as well.

My current travel piece is a double running square.  I haven't yet decided whether to call it a handkerchief, or simply a basket cover, which is what it will probably ultimately be used for.

This project started as an exercise in not dithering over the design stage.  Facing a day running errands, with big gaps between, I grabbed my copy of the reprint of Peter Quentel's Modelbuch brought out by Lynne Skinner a number of years ago, some graph paper, linen, black thread and needles.  (Sadly, I'm not sure this is still available.  It is a facsimile of Hiersemann's 1882 reprint of Quentel's 1527/1529 modelbuch).  By the end of the day's stops I had chosen a band from Plate number 56, charted it out and began stitching.

The project became my travel piece and has been worked on in an on and off manner for just over a year -- being put down often in favor of other projects not for lack of interest, but because I keep taking on projects with deadlines. 

Some shots of the current status.  I've done all the way around on the first pass (and it came out counted correctly), and am about half way back.  Yes, I have left all my ends for after the piece is done.  With double running, particularly, I prefer to do the weaving in after the work has all been done, I find it makes it easier to avoid weaving in too much in one location.

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.