Wednesday, June 30, 2010

More Unusual Grotto Threads

For all you "threadies" out there, here are some of the other threads used to create the grotto rocks:

Most unusual, I think, are the twisted silk perles.  Here are photos of two of these rocks:

Here's the silk perle (metal core with wound around it) thread you start with the make the composite threads and a photo of several of the completed composite threads.  To create the composite threads, you run a strand of filament silk through the center of the silk perle, then stretch the silk perle out until it's getting close to straight.  Repeat the process with a different perle and color of filament silk.  Then twist those two threads together. . . and the result is the threads shown in the lower photo.  The interesting thing about making these threads was how hard it was (for me at least) to predict the actual look of the new thread from the colors I started with. 

 Other out-of-the-ordinary threads found in the grotto include silk gimp, which was spun by Tricia specially for this project . . . .and a lot of boucle threads, which we made by hand using a variety of filament silks.

To round out the grotto, there are also two rocks made of French knots of Silk Perlee.  What an assortment of threads in a small area!

Friday, June 25, 2010

Some Details on Fibers and Stitches

As I've mentioned in earlier posts, the truly exceptional aspect of the Mermaid's Grotto piece is the extent to which the designer (Tricia Nguyen) has faithfully recreated the 17th century techniques and materials in the piece. My favorites are the "coral rocks" and the "moss rocks".

Here are close ups of the two coral rocks:


I really love the effect here.  To my mind, they truly look like coral!

Making them is a multi-step process. . . starting with gylt silk twist thread and silver gylt twist thread.  (These are threads that Tricia had made during the Plimoth Jacket project, and are silk cores with a gold or silver gilt metal wrapped barber-pole style over top.)  To make the threads for the coral, the gyte twist thread is wound around jewelry wire, then the wrapped wire is wrapped around a milliner's needle.  The resulting coiled thread is then removed from the needle, and couched down to create the rocks.  Making this thread was relatively easy, and I think the effect is just fabulous.

My other favorite rocks are the moss rocks, shown below.  These are stitched using a single strand of Soie de Paris thread.  Tricia calls these drizzle or moss rocks, but I'm not sure what to call the stitch.  Basically, you just twist the thread until it's very very tightly twisted, and will coil up on itself if tension is released.  Then the needle and most of the thread is taken to the back of the fabric, leaving the loose thread left on the surface free to twist and coil up.  I love this effect too, but stitching it was very slow and tedious . . . but definitely worth it.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

One Mermaid Grotto - Complete and Move-In Ready

Progress continues on my Mermaid's Grotto piece.  The grotto itself is complete as seen in the photo below!  The result is very colorful indeed, but looking at photos of some of the original pieces (several similar designs can be found in the Twixt Art and Nature Catalogue) and allowing for fading over the years, the historical pieces were probably once very simlarly bright and multicolored.

The bright mixture of colors has been my major challenge in the piece so far, as I am not terribly confident in my color skills.  I also wanted to shift the colors a bit from Tricia's model. . . so I couldn't fall back on just trying to match the picture as much as possible.  I'll have some close ups of some of the unusual fibers and techniques in a later post.

I also find myself increasingly intrigued by the this 17th century grotto fascination.  I know the mermaid personifies vanity. . . certainly not a positive allegoric characteristic.  But clearly the mermaid and her grotto were wildly popular -- at least for a while.  I wonder if the secret of the appeal might be the very fact that these grottos provide such an opportunity for almost over-the-top playing with color and texture . . . a bit like Halloween pieces today allow us to really have FUN with stitches and fabulous fibers today.  And from today's perspective (think Hans Christian Anderson fairy tales and Disney mega-films) the mermaid herself seems a pretty fun and positive creature too.  I wonder if the young stitchers of the 17th century thought so too. 

Interestingly, the grotto appeal continued in a different form into the 18th century, where the well appointed grand garden always included a grotto.  Here's a picture of the grotto at Stourhead. . .but the mermaid here has been supplanted by a very classical and manly Neptune, and the grotto remains craggy but has lost its gem-like mix of fablous colors.  Have the "boys" appropriated our very feminine little mermaid and her colorful home?  Hmmmm.....

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Unpacking from virtual time travel

Although I love to stitch, I probably spend more time reading!  And although I really don't use my graduate expertise in medieval literature much in my job, it lives on in my interest in history, which is reflected both in my interest in historical styles of stitching and in my choice of reading material.

A recent finish I really loved is this book by Ian Mortimer.  I simply LOVE the concept of a book catering to the medieval time traveler.  Although this is non-fiction, Mortimer concentrates on all those daily details I always wonder about.  What were folks' houses really like?  What did they eat?  However did they manage without toilet paper?  What were their clothes like? ....and the list goes on.

This was fun and readable book that I would recommend to anyone with a passing interest in the middle ages.  Until time travel becomes available, it's probably the next best thing.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Weekend class - great class, little to show

This weekend I took a 2-day class in needlelace presented by Doreen Holmes and sponsored by the Queen City Sampler Guild.  The project is a really pretty little needlelace pinkeep, with a different selection of patterns on each side.  Here's a photo of one side of the finished project:

And here's what I have completed at the end of two days of class. Not too impressive to look at given the number of hours spent on it!  Given the big reticello project I completed last year, I was quite comfortable with the Aemilia Ars square in the lower left hand corner, which uses exactly the same techniques.  And I'm happy with that part of the work completed so far.

But the reason I was really excited to take the course was to learn how to stitch stitches similar to the "combination stitch" lace in in the upper left hand corner. That I'm not too happy with yet.
Doreen was most helpful, and shared several technique hints that I'm sure will be useful. . . but as you can guess, the real trick is practice, pratice, and more practice.   So that's the next step.  Cut out the current stitching and start  again (on try number 5 on this stitch).  It is getting closer to how it's supposed to look, so I'm hopeful that by try 6 or 7, I may have a "keeper."