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.