Friday, December 17, 2010

I Have Completion Issues - Holiday Edition

May I introduce for your consideration a condition afflicting some stitchers:  Completion Issues Syndrome or CIS.  This serious ailment was identified several years ago by my husband, who turned to me and commented, "you have serious completion issues."  And alas, it is true.  I only plead the addiction card. . .I am NOT in control of my inability to complete things expeditiously.

Consider the following projects that I found when yet again reorganizing my stash of WIPs and UFOs.  For all of these, the lack of completion is very easy to explain.  I love stitching, but hate finishing.  The sad thing is, it wouldn't take THAT long to get these wrapped up. . . .but. . . .well, fellow CIS sufferers will understand.

First on the walk of shame - this really fun Genny Morrow tree, finished as a large stand up to go with my collection of needle pointed Santas (that are currently scattered about the house).

Yup. . .that is a year 2000 you see stitched in the lower corner, and worse still, look how little still has to be done (below).  I am at a loss as to why this one isn't done. . . issues with stuffing perhaps.  This one goes into the "dog gone it do it now" pile.

Next up, this fabulous Joan Thomasson Santa.  I cleverly did NOT stitch a date on him, but can confess he's been waiting a while.  I do know the issues here - I always have problems with stuffing these stand ups (it's harder than it looks to get a nice firm shape with fairly smooth exterior lines), plus on this one I still need to measure, cut, and cover the base piece. . . which is also tricky.  Will Santa get done this year?  Probably not before Christmas, but he goes on my New Year's resolutions for sure.  I REALLY REALLY love the design and want him out and enjoying the season next year.

I also found this little Pam Pabst Christmas angel.  I think her issue concerns what cording to use.  I think perhaps that cording made from white perle cotton might work best here, so if I can get help from my hubby in making cording, maybe I can finish her off this year.

Finally, I found these 3 Santa ornaments.  I did these years ago for an ANG (American Needlepoint Guild) program on making beards.  They are really fun, and I love how they turned out. . .and as you can see I have about half the finishing done.  Issues here. . . deciding on (making?) the right cording, trimming the backings to fit (HATE doing that), and assembling the whole things.  I make no promises on these.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

We Interrupt this Trip Report. . .

For a wave of holiday PANIC!

Just about the time I would have been worrying about Thanksgiving dinner. . . had I been cooking. . . another alarming deadline popped into view.  ....less than THREE weeks until Sampler Guild Christmas party. . . meaning less than three weeks to get ornaments done for the ornament exchange (which is optional) and for my secret stitcher (required).

So over the Thanksgiving holiday, I've been stitching up some little lacis whitework ornaments.  As of today -- see pictures below -- I have the embroidery completed and the finishing done on two of the four ornaments. . . with only the twisted cord to make and attach to complete the other two. . . so I'm almost ready to proceed to the next item on the holiday panic list.

Monday, November 22, 2010

A Bit of the Unexpected

No doubt about it.  By a couple of days into the tour, I had seen lots of EXACTLY what I had expected. . . item after item with beautiful needlelace motifs and stunning goldwork. 

But we also saw some more unexpected items, including some jackets that are very different from the Layton and Plimoth jackets.  One was the Maidstone jacket (see picture in previous post).  But there were others.  Below are my sketches of the patterns on two others.  (Photography permissions prohibit posting photos.)

I thought that both of these patterns looked quite contemporary. . . and not at all what I usually think of as 17th century garb.  But both were striking. . . and would look good if worn today.  I'm especially interested in trying to glimpse what life may have been like for those other than the fashion elite, and these jackets seemed to do just that.

And both jackets also looked like they might well have been stitched by amateurs.  Why?  A couple of reasons. . . .the stitching is very nicely executed, but not terribly complicated.  The star and cloud (black and white) jacket was entirely done in backstitch. . . while the red and green stitched squiggle and dot pattern combined backstitch (red) and what I think are just several small overlapping stitches for the green dots.

It also looks like the patterns might have been laid out by novice designers.  As an example, the space between the "rows" of the squiggle and dot pattern is not totally even.  (In fact, one sleeve has more repeats of the pattern than the other.) 

And what a relief it was to realize that even without the technical competence of the "masterpiece" jackets it was possible to create beautiful pieces of stitching.  In the words of one fellow traveler:  "My incompetence is historically accurate!" 

That's my very favorite comment of the entire tour. 

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

17th Century Pro-Am Musings

A lot of the travelers on the Jacket Tour were either professional and highly accomplished amateur costumers, including many SCA (Society for Creative Anachronism) members.
I find the accomplishments of these folks absolutely stunning.  I truly love embroidery, but I'm not sure if I could commit myself to stitch an entire coif. . . let alone a jacket. . . let alone create multiple complete historically accurate outfits.  While I often looked at the embroidery and asked myself "how did they do that," the costume experts were also asking the same thing about the garment construction. . . including all sorts of detailed and arcane issues that I barely followed.

But one issue that I think was common to both groups was the asking whether any of these beautiful garments were -- or could have been -- created by the wearer herself.

Tricia and the museum curators consistently chose jaw-droppingly splendid pieces for us to see, and many of them, like the Layton Jacket and other similar pieces (see November 2 posting) were certainly the work of professionals.  But there was also a range to the pieces that gave glimpses into lives of the less than SUPER SUPER SUPER wealthy.

Consider the Maidstone jacket, which we able to examine closely at the small but lovely Maidstone Museum.  Here's a photo:

The construction of the jacket is fairly simple. . .unlined. . . and the embroidery is not complicated -- stem stitched outlines filled with running stitches.  It's beautifully done and the overall effect is fabulous, but was it possibly made by the woman who wore it?  We know it COULD have been because Lauren the Extreme Costumer (who was along on the tour) has indeed stitched her own jacket based on this very historical piece.  Check out pictures of her work here

But wait. . . there were other pieces that might tempt an amateur stitcher. . . but those must wait. . .for another post.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

More Eye Candy from the V&A

Before moving on from the V&A I wanted to share some examples of the detached buttonhole type of stitching that we worked on the Plimoth Jacket that was the inspiration for this tour.

The highlight of our visit was the behind the scenes visit with the curators where we were able to closely examine FOUR 17th century jackets, all with similarities to the Plimoth Jacket.  Sadly, the photo permissions prohibit sharing those behind the scenes photos, but you can see photos of three of the four jackets through the V&A website.

Here are links for the Layton jacket, the jacket with the embroidery pattern used on the Plimoth jacket, and a third jacket that I think of as the Acorn Jacket.

And here are some other lovely pieces from the study rooms featuring the same type of embroidery. . . first a forehead cloth and a pillow bere (pillow sham) including two close ups.  Throughout the tour, it was especially fun to see the many variations there were on the theme of the scrolling stems festooned with leaves, flowers, and the occasional bird and/or bugs.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Wishing You a Stitchy Witchy Halloween

In honor of Halloween here are some photos of some holiday stitching.  These are all done in needlepoint. . . and truly indulge in all sorts of fun fibers.

First, a truly frightful witch  - front and back -. . . . stitched then folded origami style to create the head and hat.  Don't you LOVE the purple skin and sickly green hair?

My trio of beautiful potted witches:

And two not at all frightful Halloween angels:

Aren't they fun?  My Halloween resolution this year is to finish several other Halloween projects in time for NEXT year!

Monday, October 25, 2010

How were things done and amazing coincidences

Another study board in the V&A study rooms that I found especially interesting was one containing two pieces -- first a piece of printed fabric AND the same patterned fabric in the shape of a coif, which is embroidered with couched silver thread and very fine black stitching (which in photos is virtually indistinguishable from the black pattern beneath).  Accession numbers for the 2 items are T.174B-1931 and T.21-1946.

Here's my photo of the unstitched panel of fabric:

And here's the same fabric printed in the shape of a coif, and stitched with silver and black:

Here's the V&A's description of the piece:

Coif and panel of linen printed from engraved plates, English first half of the 17th century. The linen was evidently printed in the shape of articles of costume and was probably made for embroidery purposes. The coif is embroidered with couched silver thread (mostly recouched at a later date), black silk speckling, and trimmed with sequins.

Here is a close up of the unstitched fabric.  I was especially taken with the details, especially of the animals.  And, of course, it's got the charmingly out of scale elements common to all these pieces, like that giant-sized moth just to the right of the lion.

And several of the stitched piece:

In the pictures you can see some of the couched silver thread.   But in person with the stitched and unstitched pieces side by side, it was evident the coif is quite heavily stitched -- but the black stitching is so fine that it appears almost "printed."   Ah. . . if only we could have seen the back to see how that stitching was accomplished. 

For me, this provided another fascinating insight into the materials 17th century embroiderers had available to them.  (How similar is this to today's materials where certain designs -- Debbie Mumm's, for example.. . among many others -- are available in many different formats.)

Now for the amazing coincidence.  When I posted my first trip report, I heard from Rachel K. asking me if I'd seen the "inked coif."  And yes, it turned out that she had been researching this very piece, and had found some interesting additions. . . among which are a piece of the same patterned fabric in the form of the back of a jacket or shirt AND a modern reprint of the pattern. . . which has "censured" some of the slightly gruesome aspects of the original pattern, like the one bird killing a second one as seen on the right of the photo.  You can read further about Rachel's research on her blog here

I'm not sure what all this tells us about the differences between 17th century and 21st century sensibilities, but it sure is interesting to ponder.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

How'd they DO that?

When last I, your intrepid travel correspondent, checked in I was in the midst of a full day of checking out the embroidery at the Victoria and Albert Museum.  I must say that the V&A is one of my very favorite museums, and I've been lucky to visit several times in the past.

I spent most of the day in the textile study rooms, almost dizzy with the quality of stitching in virtually every study frame.  It was sometimes hard to concentrate on one item. . . knowing there were so many others just waiting. . . each more beautiful than the last.

What I probably ended up most taken with, though, were the items that helped me answer the question I think all stitchers have looking at some of this exceptional work:  How the heck did they DO that?

As I browse through my photos, the items I keep coming back to are ones that seem to allow a little peek into how the work might have been done.  And of course, perhaps it's JUST POSSIBLE I'll absorb a little something that will let me begin to approach the quality of work on display.

Here's a photo of one of my favorites -- a partially stitched mirror surround.  (Do you find yourself taking some comfort that there are antique UFOs?  I do.)

Looks like the stitcher just walked away, doesn't it?  Her threads are still parked waiting for her return.  And look how bright the colors are.  I wonder why the piece remains uncompleted.  I hope it was for a happy reason. . . maybe the young stitcher got married and left this piece behind. . . or maybe she was a young wife and didn't have time to stitch after having her first child.  I don't like to think of sadder possibilities.

I LOVE the fact that we can see the drawing our anonymous stitcher began with and how she chose to complete some of the motifs.  Just look at the detailed drawings of the main figures (which according to the V&A label are Venus and Paris)!  Interestingly, a fair number of the completed motifs (like the flowers and leaves next to Venus and Paris below) are tent stitched slips. . . which is a not-too-difficult technique.   

But just look at the quality of the needlelace in the rocks surrounding the fountain!  Not easy. . . no, not easy AT ALL!  I wonder what type of fabulous clothing our stitcher would have created for the figures. . . how she would finish the faces. . . and hands! 

I do hope to print out some photos and compare the drawings to some photos of completed similar pieces to possibly understand more how similar pieces of clothing were constructed. So the piece provides a little "how'd you do it" insight. . .but frustratingly little.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Starting Out on A Symphony of High Notes

No sooner had we touched down and staggered, bleary eyed, into the London Hotel than we were off and running and having close up experiences with beautiful historic embroidery!  Day 1 we went to the Museum of London where we saw jackets and gloves!  Day 2 saw us at the meandering through the vastness of Hampton Court, with a special visit to the Royal School of Needlework.  Alas, no photos were allowed in the RSN, and those at the museum of London cannot be posted.

But come Day 3, we spent the entire day at the Victoria and Albert Museum where we were able to go behind the scenes to see the Layton Jacket, the jacket that the Plymouth Jacket is based on, plus two more jackets.  I can't publish those photos (you can see the first 2 jackets at the V&A website), but we were also able to take photos of items on display and items in the textile study rooms. . . something that all V&A visitors are allowed to do.

Since I have a friend who is especially interested in medieval embroidery, I wanted to be sure to get some photos for her.  Some of the most spectacular pieces -- like the 14th century Syon cope -- are displayed in the recently opened Medieval and Renaissance galleries.  And other pieces of opus anglicanum were available in the study room.

Here's the spectacular 14th century Syon Cope and some close ups of some of the charming seraphs that are scattered across this fabulous piece.  I'm especially taken with the variety of wings on the seraphs -- they look almost architectural, don't they. . . and I think each was different:

And here are some close ups of some 13th century fragments from the study rooms.  I'm just blown away with the freshness and vibrancy of the colors!

Saturday, October 9, 2010

A Dilletante Amongst the Experts - The Embroidered Jacket Tour

I've been back a week now from a truly unique experience -- the Embroidered Jacket Tour of England organized by Tricia Nguyen, the designer and moving force behind the recreated Plymouth 17th century jacket.   Needless to say, this was a GREAT time. . . and rather overwhelming as well.  My fellow travelers included experts on historic costuming, national teachers, designers, and truly expert stitchers.   I often felt like the new kid on the block. . . and learned a bunch with just about every conversation.

In fact, there is SO much to report, that it's hard to get started.  Over a 10-day period (with a good number of travelers continuing on to an additional 4 days in Scotland) we were privileged to go behind the scenes and see dozens of pieces of 17th century embroidery up close. . . jackets, nightcaps, gloves, and miscellaneous fragments of other pieces.  Just seeing these pieces right in front of us. . . and not behind glass. . . would have been a treat in itself.  But we were also allowed to take photographs!  So I have come home with reams of photos of flowers, leaves, butterflies, worms, birds, lions, leopards, and bunches of other up close design details!  If I ever get it all organized, I hope to try to recreate some of the motifs myself.

Since I'm a "cat person," I've always especially wanted to create a lovely lion, like all those on the stumpwork caskets and panels.  And I have a nice selection of very close up shots of various 17th century lions to examine. 

But here's the rub.  Because of strict rules we agreed to in the photographic permission releases, I am unable to post the vast vast majority of of the photos.   So I'm not quite sure how exactly this wonderful experience will make it into this blog over the coming weeks.  I'm here waiting for inspiration.

In the meantime, I can direct you to a fellow tour participant who has posted a wonderful day by day itinerary on her blog here.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Jane Turner and More Changes Planned

The next band of Jane's sampler is a big pictorial one featuring two very leafy trees flanking a fine lady dressed in a couched and needle lace gown. Here's a picture of band as stitched in the reproduction

I'm thinking of making some changes though. I feel like I'm caught up in the "coloring book" feeling I mentioned in the last post. And I'm thinking I may want to do a little something different.

I do have the outline of the two trees done. And I started the fillings on the left-hand tree. Once I saw the orange and white fruits, I got to thinking about how I wanted to do the leaves. Jane originally did yellow and green striped leaves (very similar to leaves earlier in the sampler). But I really like how the orange and white fruits seem to pop. . . . and so got to thinking that maybe I'll do the leaves in two shades of green to help keep that pop from the fruit. With that plan in mind, there won't be any yellow on the trees except for the large bird, so I decided to make it a little more colorful. Hopefully, the result will be more emphasis on the birds and the nice bright orange and white fruit, with the leaves receding just a little in the background.

Here's the band with one tree partially colored in and the other just outlined.

And here's the left hand tree with everything except the leaves colored in.

Having already departed from the original sampler, I also have plans for the lovely lady in the band. But decisions on that will have to wait for another day.

Monday, September 20, 2010

A Pretty Flowered Band

I've continued work over the past week or two on the Jane Turner Sampler.  Yes, I have other projects that should be in the rotation, but right now, I'm not in the mood for things requiring really close attention to technique.

Here's a recently finished band that's created with a double running outline filled in with satin stitch.  (The arc you see is the angle of my photo, not the band itself).

Isn't it a pretty pattern?  I can just imagine it decorating all sorts of items.  And with the outline filled with satin stitch, I'm feeling a little like I'm a little kid with a coloring book. . . except with thread rather than crayons.  I wonder if there was any sense of this back in the 17th century as well.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Blackwork in Red

This week a WIP came back to me.  Earlier this year my friend, Kerrie Hollihan, asked if I would stitch some blackwork (i.e., reversible double running work) to possibly be used as an illustration in her forthcoming book on Queen Elizabeth I.  (Kerrie writes delightful and intelligent books on historical figures -- including Sir Isaac Newton and Teddy Roosevelt -- for middle-school aged children.  You can find more info at her website here.)

We thought that a band from a sampler wouldn't mean much to most children today, so decided on a stitched handkerchief.  So with help from stitching friends who lent books of historical patterns and dipped into their stashes for soft and fine ecclesiastical linen and tightly wound silk sewing thread, I was set.  And stitching away I went.  Seeing the piece in progress, Kerrie thought the in-progress piece might make the best illustration, so she has had it for the summer.  Now it's back, and I hope to finish the stitching this fall.

Here's a photo of the front of the piece thus far:

And, because I have to show off just a little, here's a picture of the back.  All in all it looks pretty good, and it shows how stitching like this would have worked in functional items.  The problem really isn't doing reversible paths in the stitching or even ending an occasional thread.  The problem is that in repeating the pattern again and again, I tend to make little errors in the pattern, which then have to be filled in later. . . which create more starts and stops.   (If you look carefully you CAN tell which is the wrong side. . .but I'm not going to give you that good a picture!)

Here's a close-up of the pattern.  It's so charming and feminine, and I've been enjoying stitching it. 

It has also been an interesting experience working on a fabric that one can easily imagine wearing.  I haven't counted carefully, but the thread count here is around 50-55 threads per inch, and you'll note from the photo that thread count is slightly different horizontally from vertically.  Interestingly, working on that small a count isn't as difficult as one would think.  The trickiest part is that I'm using a small sharp needle because of the small thread count, and from time to time it's easy to pierce a thread.  It's also really easy to create little white gaps on the reverse side if the needle isn't angled STRAIGHT through the fabric.  I find I get the best results when I am able to actually pierce the thread from the first journey as I do the second journey, although this isn't always possible.

It's also interesting working with the very tightly wound sewing-type silk thread.  I'm using beeswax to prevent totally impossible knotting.  But beyond that, there are definitely some advantages to this thread.  In particular, the thread is REALLY tough.  Even very very tight knots can be pulled apart, and the thread does not fray.  That's quite a difference from DMC floss or many other silks I've used.

I will be traveling over the next few weeks, and this will be a take-along project -- perfect for traveling because it's very small, has only a 1-page chart, and a small spool of thread.  It all fits in a sandwich size zip lock bag.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Thank you secret stitcher!

I got a wonderful surprise in the mail recently!  A package from my secret stitcher pal (from Queen City Sampler Guild).  I've been really lucky with my pal's ability to seemingly read my mind, but she really outdid herself this time.  Look at the beautiful quilted tote -- in blue, my favorite color -- complete with matching covered notepad, bookmark with my initials, some beautiful sampler charts. . . plus all the other goodies. 

Thank you S.S.!  The package arrived when I really needed a pick-me-up!  I love it!

Monday, August 30, 2010

Jane Turner Sampler - Another Band Completed

It's August. . . and hot. . . and the brain isn't quite at its sharpest.  So, some stitching on a nice straightforward band sampler should be just the trick, right? 

Well. . . yes and no.  With the above logic, I jumped into the next band of the Jane Turner sampler.  It turned out to be quite a chunk to bite off, but once I got going, it got addictive.  Step one was the double-running outline. . .a bit tricky to count because the pattern is more pictorial and less a repeating design.  It turned out the easiest thing was to work counter clockwise.

In many cases, at this point the band would be done.  Not so here.  Jane added a great deal of embellishment to her band including satin stitch and lots of trellis and spiral trellis sections.  Here's the finished band with all the bells and whistles.

I got a lot of much needed practice on trellis stitch with this band. . . including what seemed to me like rather odd uses of trellis. . . in the angled olive green stems, the 3-colored brown "snakes," and little fiddly acorns, v-shaped stem, and the barber-pole stem. 

Add the spiral trellis shapes (that seem to be almost magic in how they create their puffy swirls) and the resulting band is very textural indeed.

As I was working, I was thinking how different this band is from most samplers.  But browsing through photos online and in reference books, I think perhaps it's more that most of us pleasure stitchers today concentrate on samplers that aren't quite so complex.  If Jane were going to eventually do a complex casket or mirror surround with needlelace clothing and other effects, doing a band like this would make perfect sense.  And eureka!! the next large band of Jane's sampler is exactly that. . . a lady with needlelace dress.  I feel like I've caught onto some of the logic that may have underlain the original stitching! 

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Whipping Out Some Whitework

Planning is well underway in my local EGA chapter for year 2011 programs. . . so I'm pilot stitching like mad (yes, I know it's an excuse for not getting those "big" projects completed, but it's also true!).  Here's photo of what I've completed so far for one program -- on fancy drawnwork hemstitching. 

I just wish blogspot had an "add a smell" feature. . . because once I got these little sachet bags assembled, I filled them with dried lavender and they smell WONDERFUL!  And aren't the linen-look lavender lining fabric and matching ribbon just perfect for a lavender sachet?  And isn't it a little sad that today we rarely use our embroidery skills to beautify everyday articles?   Hmmmm...maybe I should pick up some stamped pillow cases to stitch. . . although I am NOT -- I repeat NOT -- stitching any dish towels or hand crocheting any pot holders!