Monday, August 31, 2015

Which fabric?

I was recently involved in a discussion on Google Plus about which fabric to use for a particular project.  I tried to answer, and it got me thinking -- then I went digging through my stash marked "embroidery fabrics" (this is one of the boxes I had not yet gone through in the studio refit).  What I thought were a number of pieces of embroidery fabric neatly marked, were some marked fabrics and a fair amount, apparently, of "oh, I'll remember what that was" -- of course I don't.

When working on projects inspired by or meant to recreate historic pieces, we are often faced by a number of problems with fabric selection.

First, descriptions in books and museum websites are not always using words the same way we use them. For instance, does a description of an item as being on "linen canvas" mean that it was a linen ground with a fairly open weave, similar to today's "needlepoint canvas?"  That's certainly what comes to my mind, but without seeing the piece in person, or really really good photographs, including areas that the threads may have worn away, I can't be sure.

Second, there may simply not be a fabric similar to the one originally used.

Third, time, use, and the manner of storage over the years may have changed the original fabric so that when we study the piece, we are not seeing what was originally worked on, but what that fabric has become.

Still, often we can come close, and when we can't we can make adjustments.

The project that raised this topic is one of Richard Wymarc's charting of German Brick Stitch.  The particular design that was referenced calls for "37 count" fabric.  Unfortunately, there is no 37 count fabric, and the question went out of what to use.

Here are the factors I would be considering if I were doing this project.

1.  Hand.  "Hand" is the the sort of short hand word needle workers use for how the fabric feels in the hand.  Is it drapey or stiff.  Will it work well for stitching without a hoop or frame? Will it stand up to being stretched tightly?  Will it hold up to being covered with thread, or will it prefer being only partially embroidered?  Does the fabric drape more like clothing or table linens, or does it feel like it will be good for a cushion? Two fabrics, both 100% linen and at the same thread count may have very different "hand."  For the given project I would prefer a fabric with a fairly stiff hand so that it will stand up to the high tension and large amount of thread (the ground fabric is covered in this form) it will be supporting.

2.  Hole size.  Some fabrics are made up up plumper threads while others have thinner or more tightly spun threads.  This will make a difference to the size of the holes.  Two fabrics, both 100% linen and at the same thread count may have different hole size.  At higher thread counts, it may become too hard to see individual threads and holes, ruling out a counted form of embroidery (and that threshold will vary by embroiderer), yet another fabric at the same high count but with tighter threads, the individual holes may still be visible and countable.  For this project I would look for a fabric with a large hole-to-thread ratio.  I have often described "canvas embroidery" as where the holes are larger than the threads making up the fabric.  This will be easy to count.
Two fabrics, close in thread count, but because of the character of the threads, the holes appear different. (Note that these are not both linen, the congress cloth shown here is cotton
Both linen.  Despite the fact that the one on the right is a higher count, the holes are as easy or even easier to see than the one on the left because the threads are thinner, leaving more space between them.

3.   Appearance.  Most linen fabrics today are available in natural and eggshell as well as white.  I tend to go for one in the natural range.  This is possibly personal preference.

4.  Fiber.  Yes, linen is often the ground cloth of the original, and when it is, linen is the first choice. However, if the hand, hole size and appearance of a cotton "needlepoint" canvas answer the project well, I would go with the cotton.  For example, I have been fortunate enough to do two pieces in German Brick Work on linen Congress Cloth (24 count).  However, this fabric is no longer being made.  Congress Cloth is still made, in cotton, and the eggshell is very close in color to the linen.  I would count this an acceptable substitute, the Congress Cloth being in all other ways an admirable stand in for the original fabric.

The website Needle In a Haystack has a nice informational page about embroidery fabrics that makes a good guide:  Their industry fabric guide (PDF) is from 2011 and it is possible that some of the fabrics listed are not available, but it makes a good jumping off point.

My final choice for the given project?  First I would go through my stash, checking the thread count of the fabrics I don't have marked.  If I failed to find something there to suit, I would probably go with the Wichelt 35 count linen.  From Needle In a Haystack's description it has the stiffer hand that I would prefer for this project.

At one time I had assembled a book with samples of many embroidery fabrics and notes of their characteristics and where they were available.  Sadly, that appears to have been discarded.  Time to assemble a new one -- a blog post to come perhaps?

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Thursday round up

Last night was A&S night -- and we even had company.  A new-to-SCA, new-to-embroidery (but not to artistic endeavor) teen came over and started her own sampler of stitches. With an excellent artist's eye, her first stitches of some (un-counted) double running, herringbone and cross stitches were neat and close to even. Her herringbone was more even than some of that I have running all up and down tunic seams.

And, of course, she left before I even *thought* to take pictures...

I also got some embroidery done on the third of three motifs I'm working for a Labor Day elevation.

Because of having company/a student, I did not immerse myself in my studio looking for materials to answer a question, but I will work on that -- and maybe even develop a post from it.

All in all, a pretty good A&S night.

Current project list/status:
  • Medallion for a coronation mantle -- very close to done, though a more formal post will have to wait until after the coronation in October.  I've been keeping notes, and I think it will be a fun post, if you like a running almost daily report :) This will be my project as soon as the next one is done.
  • Motifs for a Laurel cloak -- two of three motifs are done. Deadline of August 29 may not quite be hit -- but they will be in the next person's hands by early next week. Formal post will be after labor day.
  • Motifs for coronation cloaks (different coronation) -- this has been assigned and planning has happened.  Currently waiting for materials and specific size information requested.  This is an applique project, and the pieces will be a bit larger than the other items. Again, formal post will be after the coronation, but I plan to draft the post as I work.
  • Marshall Hanging -- the very large Bayeux inspired piece that I've been working on (on and off) for just about forever.  Deadline, June 2016. I expect there will be an update post shortly. No additional work this week.
  • Hem stitched square -- about half way through the third side.  Currently my travel piece. A few more stitches have been done this week, but I've been concentrating on the ones due soonest. 
  • Additional couching & laid work pieces. The June 2016 deadline is for a very special presentation to the East Kingdom embroidery guild, Keepers of Athena's Thimble.  In addition to the master work of the Marshall Hanging, I need supporting pieces in other forms of laid and couched work.  There will be posts as these are done. Some research and Pinteresting have been done.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

More Old Sturbridge Village Textiles

At Old Sturbridge Village they have a lovely textile exhibit, tucked away in the back of the building with the firearms exhibit.

The exhibit includes weaving, knitting, embroidery, netting, crochet and tambour work.

The embroidery includes several embroidered purses and pockets.  Here, two of the earlier purses and a crewl work pocket sit below a crewl work petticoat.

 Except for that pocket (of which, for some reason, I only got this shot -- however, unlike the other purses I've shown below, this one is on their collections on line, here), the purses and pouches are variants of canvas work.

Three are different flame stitch or Bargello patterns:

Embroidered Purse, late 18th century. Probably New England. OSV 64.7.2

Embroidered Drawstring Purse, circa 1820.  Probably New England OSV 26.29.127

Embroidered Drawstring Purse, early 19th century. Probably New England OSV 64.7.33

One, however, the Fanny Bliss embroidered purse, is something different:

Embroidered Purse, 1786. Fanny Bliss (1772-1833) Springfield, Massachusetts. OSV 64.7.15

Fanny's purse uses a more complex, compounded stitch.  Looking at the close up, and zooming in tight, it might even be Queen Stitch, a fun, if sometimes frustrating stitch to work. Sadly, with the bag behind glass, this is the closest I could get.  OSV does have some of their collections on line, but I wasn't able to find any of these bags there.  

Monday, August 24, 2015

Lacis -- Embroidery on Net

Recently I was doing some research browsing on the Metropolitan Museum of Art website for background for some projects.  As often happens, I came across a lot of pieces I wasn't looking for (I was lucky enough to come across pieces I *was* looking for as well).  Having recently had a conversation with someone about the Athena's Thimble category "Lacis," pieces that fall in that category caught my eye.

One of the issues I sometimes have with doing historically based embroidery is that in many of the forms there is little to nothing by way of extant pieces that are not religious.  Embroidery on net is not one of those forms.  A lot of the work is secular in nature. (Photos for this post are found in the links, which will open in new windows, they are from the Met and the V&A.)

This fellow particularly took my fancy.

Many of the pieces are like this guy, random fragments of embroidered net, leaving us wondering what they are or were used for.

There are a few complete pieces.  This chalice veil, for instance is not only complete, it is in color (scroll down and select the other photos).

This Altar frontal from the V&A  is also complete -- and while it is classed an altar frontal, it has mostly secular motifs. I'm thinking my lovely new dining room table needs a Lacis bordered table cloth.  Perhaps alternating squares of squirrels and acorns.... After some of the current projects have been addressed.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

A&S Status report

Well, yesterday was Wednesday, which in our home means order in and concentrate on A&S.  Except that it was also doctor appointment evening, so A&S was limited to some work on a hem stitched square I've been fiddling around with. Perhaps this evening will be A&S makeup night :)

Here are some progress shots of the hem stitch
The "wrong" side, of the stitch, which is actually the right side of the square

Next one I use a finer thread for the mitered corner, even if not for the working.
The fabric is a piece of linen I had left from making a shift, so it does not have the "even weave" that a piece from a needlework store might have.  It has been a learning experience to count the very fine threads to bundle -- and to learn to adjust the bundle if the threads warrant it.

Current project list/status:
  • Medallion for a coronation mantle -- very close to done, though a more formal post will have to wait until after the coronation in October.  I've been keeping notes, and I think it will be a fun post, if you like a running almost daily report :)
  • Motifs for a Laurel cloak -- design has been transferred, threads obtained. Deadline, August 29. Formal post will be after labor day.
  • Motifs for coronation cloaks (different coronation) -- this has been assigned and planning has happened.  Again, formal post will be after the coronation, but I plan to draft the post as I work.
  • Marshall Hanging -- the very large Bayeux inspired piece that I've been working on (on and off) for just about forever.  Deadline, June 2016. I expect there will be an update post shortly.
  • Hem stitched square -- about half way through the third side.  Currently my travel piece. 
  • Additional couching & laid work pieces. The June 2016 deadline is for a very special presentation to the East Kingdom embroidery guild, Keepers of Athena's Thimble.  In addition to the master work of the Marshall Hanging, I need supporting pieces in other forms of laid and couched work.  There will be posts as these are done. 
That's just the SCA A&S projects.  Some modern stuff (to be discussed on Tuesday posts) will occur as well, including clothing for work, knitting, and maybe even curtains for my husband's re-worked kitchen.  That new studio is going to get a work out. 

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Announcing the Tuesday posts.

Because my brain is simply overflowing with thoughts and Ideas (yes, capital "I") that I want to share, I'm adding another day -- partly in an effort to organize.

So, Mondays:  SCA and historic stuff -- my work and research, all with an eye to Medieval and Renaissance.

Tuesdays: Reviews, teaching, and modern things  This will be the place I post teaching materials, reviews of books and products, and share cool things I find on the Internet.  These will be both Medieval and Modern.  For now, this will also be the place to share modern world work -- modern knitting and sewing, progress on my studio revamp (which does continue since this post).  This section may split even further down the road, if I get more than a few posts "in the can."

Thursdays: A&S round up.  This is the "Keep Kandy Honest" post.  Usually it will focus on the A&S efforts of the previous day, though "what I've been up to since last Thursday" may also be a topic.

Thus, this being Tuesday, I'll start with a review.  There is one book that always goes with me when I'm going to be teaching, and which rarely makes its way back to its place on the needlework shelves, Mary Thomas's Dictionary of Embroidery Stitches -- the edition by Jan Eaton.  It is a complete reworking of the Mary Thomas Dictionary of Embroidery stitches from the 1930s (I have a copy of that too, though I think mine was a later reprint).  This new edition, originally printed in 1983, has lots of color, with examples of stitches, and includes alternative names for stitches and simple, clear illustrations.

The extensive introduction covers threads, fabrics, hoops and frames, needles and other useful information.  Then, the various stitches are grouped by type: Outline Stitches, Border Stitches, Composite Band Stitches, Isolated Stitches, Open Filling Stitches, Detached Filling Stitches, Straight and Slanted Canvas Stitches, Crossed Canvas Stitches, Composite Canvas Stitches, Insertion Stitches, Edging Stitches, Cut and Drawn Stitches, and Pulled Fabric Stitches.  The index is very complete, again including alternative names.

Here is an example of just one page of stitches (photo from "look inside" feature on Amazon).
Mary Thomas's Dictionary of Embroidery Stitches: Mary Thomas, Jan Eaton: 9781570761188: Books

Yes, there are other stitch dictionaries -- this is one that I have that I turn to most often.  A stitch dictionary is an important tool in any needleworker's "toolbox" -- I give this one a high recommendation.

Monday, August 17, 2015

It's a community thing...

Early in the week the call went out -- a friend needing help getting together the garb for her upcoming elevation to the Order of the Laurel (yeah, SCA stuff....).  After significant email planning, several of us descended on another friend's house on Saturday with fabric, threads, trims, pins, needles, food and love. We worked steadily through the day, with a break for supper.  Most were staying there, though I left and returned on Sunday, when more work was done. By the time we all left on Sunday the gown was well in hand, the decorative bands were receiving beads and we had talked ourselves out.

As we worked and chatted and shared, I wondered how much like this was the work of hands of our ancestors.  The gown we were working to assemble is based on the 1532 inventory of the Queen of France -- much later period than the 12th Century clothing I usually work on, and there was a lot of work involved, from endless-seeming lines of eyelets (my task), to assembly of trim to the basic steps of assembling bodice and skirt pieces of several layers.  Did the workshops that turned out the clothes of the court of Francis I of France that we see in portraits and inventories also ring with laughter sometimes, and at others fall into companionable silence as they worked?  I have to think so.  Despite the modern conveniences of sewing machines, electric lights, music from the other room and air conditioning, in many ways, it was a "medieval moment."

And, I even learned to do a decent eyelet for clothing (which, it turns out, is very different from an eyelet for embroidery)

Just some of the 60 eyelets I managed over the weekend.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

New Post day -- Thursday's A&S Report

Some time ago my husband and I decided that Wednesday evenings would be A&S night at our house.  We bring or order in dinner and devote the evening to some form of Arts & Sciences (usually something for SCA, but sometimes it is something more modern).  To "keep me honest" I'm going to try to post on Thursdays a report of my A&S night activity.

And the first week, I get to post semi A&S fail.  My current smaller project is on hold waiting for the last thread to arrive, a second smaller project hasn't arrived yet, and I did not pull out all the apparatus to work on my big piece.  Instead I pulled out the hemstitch piece I was working on before I started the current smaller project.

And promptly realized I had forgotten how to do the stitch, and the book is neatly tucked away behind a pile of items to go to yard sale.

I did spend some time on line doing research (i.e. looking at museum websites) for a number of future projects, so it wasn't a total non-A&S night, but it was not the most productive.

That, however, is what the Thursday posts will be about -- keeping me honest.

Meanwhile, here is a gratuitous shot of some old embroidery I have done. This is the cover of a book that I made.  The book is a sampler of finger loop braids (that's the source of the "fringe" in the one corner).  It is now in the possession of my laurel.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Double running....

One of the counted forms of embroidery I enjoy doing -- and one which is particularly handy for idle moments -- is double running.  Sometimes, double running falls within 'blackwork' and it was in a class on blackwork that I first learned the stitch.  There are items that are, or can be, done in double running that do not fall within "blackwork," however.  (Blackwork, of course, can also be completly different than this geometric counted form ... but that's a post for another day, maybe. 

Generally made up of two passes -- one the "outward journey" and one the "return journey."  It is useful for items of which the back will be seen, such as handkerchiefs, cuffs, basket covers and such items.  The same designs can be done with other stitches when the back is not to be seen, or if reversibility is not sought.  I am drawn to the "puzzle" aspect of doing double running -- and both of the pieces pictured below brought me great joy in the working simply because of that.  

Both of these pieces were done on linen grounds -- the red on a slightly more open weave than the black.  The designs came from New Little Pattern Book by Peter Quentel, a facsimile of an 1882 printing of a book from the 1527-1529 edition, and I worked out the corners.

Both pieces are hemmed with simple hems.  I am now working a drawn thread hemstitch piece which may or may not eventually have a similar border worked. 

The first is a red work handkerchief, worked on 32 count even weave linen (sold in needlework stores) with one strand of red Splendor. 

This piece is not one line all around.  The outer squares with the acorns on top and bottom were worked all around, then the inside of each square. 

The second piece was an exercise is "not dithering."  When I start a project, I usually go through a long (weeks usually) period of looking at source material, thinking and dithering about design, colors, fabrics, threads -- ever element.  One day I had a series of medical appointments (all routine -- at the time I worked in town and I would schedule them all for the same day so as to only use one day of time off for all of them) with down time in between.  I grabbed a piece of fabric, black thread and needles, one book of designs, graph paper and pencil and set myself the goal of having thread on the fabric by the end of the day.  I managed it nicely, and started working on this piece with birds and flowers. It then became my "tucked in the bag for something to do whenever" project for some time. I first talked about this piece, and the "travel project" in this post

Except for those corner crosses, this piece *is* one line all the way around.

They may be birds, but these two remind me of my cats
... half the time facing each other and friendly....

.... and half the time back to back and ignoring each other. 

While also a commercial even weave, this fabric had more "slubs" which occasionally made counting a little more interesting. One of the nice things about double running is that you really only have to count on the "outbound" journey -- the return journey is just filling in.  When doing a piece that goes all the way around, it is always a great relief when the last stitch on the outbound journey matches up with the first stitch!

Monday, August 3, 2015

While I'm waiting for new reveals....

My current projects can't much be talked about -- either because I've said what there is to say so far, or because they cannot be revealed yet -- so here's a look at some prior work.

One of my favorite forms of embroidery is German brick work.  It's a nice, regular stitch of the counted type, typically done on canvas.  (In the East Kingdom embroidery guild Athena's Thimble it typically panels under the Canvas category.)  When I first came to the SCA and Athena's Thimble I was very much a "counted" girl -- so much so that when I entered an item in the "Free Embroidery" category for the first time the judges' comment was "set it free."  Nowadays I do as much free work as counted work, maybe even more -- but I do still love the rhythm of doing counted work.

Two pieces that I have done in this form are a pouch and a pillow.

The pouch was a gift for one of the Queens of the East. It was executed in black, red and white, using the recipient's household colors; and was opposite on the two sides. It is executed with silk threads on linen congress cloth (sadly, this is no longer made).  Congress cloth is a close approximation to the stitch count of some of the original brick stitch pieces found at the V&A.

The brick stitch is an upright stitch, in this example it is executed in pairs, with each pair "stepped" down or up from the one beside it, creating strong diagonal lines.

The bag is lined and a decorative stitch was added to the outside seams.  A fingerloop braid cord and tassels complete the bag. 

The pillow is one of my favorite ever pieces.
Using a chart I found of the pillow found in The Embroiderers and in Schuette, I made a couple of color changes from the chart-maker's choices.  

Worked on linen Congress cloth with silk thread, and interrupted by other projects, the pillow took quite a while to finish, and when I finished the last pair of birds I was very happy to be done with it.  

More brick stitch work is certainly in my plans for future projects.  It is ideal for household goods (like the pillow) and accessories that will see some hard wear (like a pouch).  The density of the stitching covering the entire ground makes the finished piece strong.  The pillow goes with me to events and has helped with comfort level on more than one occasion.