Thursday 31 December 2009

I Confess to Christmas Shopping Today!

I spent the day in Chichester visiting the exhibition of Henry Moore Textiles at the Pallant House Gallery (which continues until February 21st 2010) - and shopping...Christmas shopping! I am still full of all the excitement of Christmas it would seem. It doesn't seem ever to go away and I ferret away small items for loved ones all year long. I don't know how long you will go on stitching your Christmas ornaments over the holiday period - but why stop? Stitching a small gift is a delightful way to spend time thinking on a dear friend. One of my dearest friends sent me a card saying: Friendship is made one stitch at a time. One stitch, one gentling word, a thought given...kindness continues in ripples like this ornament made for CW by Lynn. Lynn used Vikki Clayton's HDF silks in BeLeaved and either BeGuilted or BeHived for the goldish color. Simple, special, a token of love continuing the round.

A Lovely Ackworth Ornament from France

I wonder how your Christmas Tree looked this year - did you hang your Ackworth Christmas ornaments?
This is one lovely ornament stitched and personalized by Beatrice in Nice. That finish is really special.

Tuesday 29 December 2009

Crossley Mosaics

It was a friend, Jean Panter, who once asked that I should 'do something on Crossley Mosaics'. Jean, living at that time with her charming sister Anne in the aptly named Octagon at Woodstock had invited me over to photograph her Ackworth School Sampler by Deborah Cockin for our School Girl Samplers from Ackworth book. She asked me, and I foolishly promised her, to make sure the sampler was never reproduced as a stitching pattern. I failed her. Two years later both Jean and Anne were dead, having died within weeks of each other. And today whilst tidying up my files, I found a small booklet by R A Innes on the Crossley Mosaics sent to me by Jean.
I have written before about the Crossley Mill at Dean Clough in Halifax, once the largest carpet factory in the world and now converted into offices and a Travelodge where I habitually stay when I am in Halifax. Sometime in the middle of the 19th century a German refugee surnamed Schubert came to work for John Crossley and so began the interesting sideline of making wool mosaics. As a child, visiting the sea-side, I would watch as makers of sticks of peppermint rock somehow incorporated the name of the sea-side resort. The name ran right through the length of the stick, so that wherever you whacked it to break off a piece, the name of the resort could still clearly be read. If you can imagine this, then you can understand how Crossley Mosaics are made. Coloured strands of wool around 6 feet in length (approx 2 metres) were laid in progressive rows in a rectangular steel frame, such that the ends when viewed face-on produced a picture. A piece of linen spread with adhesive was then fixed to the ends and, the adhesive having dried, a slice was cut from the wool matrix, leaving a pile of an eighth of an inch thickness on the linen. Between 90-95 mosaics could be sliced from one setting of the wools. And, by alternating the end of the wool matrix from which the mosaics were sliced, mirror images of the same picture could be produced. Here you can see a mosaic of the Prince of Wales, later Edward VII, which was designed for the 1851 Exhibition. It measures 90cm x 52.5cm and if you look closely at the Prince of Wales motto - Ich Dien - above Edward's head and below his feathers, you will see that the motto appears in reverse! Crossley Mosaics were sold as table rugs, and wall hangings, door mats and screens and although I could find no price for this particular mosaic, a mosaic of approximately the same size sold for 5s 4p (26p in today's money but not today's value). I wish I could have done better for you, Jean.

Monday 28 December 2009

I'm Dreaming of Broderie Blanche

Every year about this time I manage to hide myself away in the South of France to unwind amongst orange trees, blue skies and the antique markets of Nice, Menton, Aix and L'Isle sur la Sorgue. There are always lovely textiles to be found and I never fail to fall in love with white linen diligently embroidered with white monograms. It is beyond me how families can part with these items passed through the generations...but they do. Is it the lure of money? Is it because no-one remembers who exactly MM might have been? Is it because they take up too much space in a modern house? Or is simply because the family rarely gathers around the table for the polite ceremony of taking dinner? I remember when I was at school in France, there was always immaculate linen in the evening for supper, I can smell its freshness even now. And always there was the silver gilt little table-sweeper for hoovering up those delinquent crumbs of baguette.

Here you can see some clippings from vintage broderie blanche magazines I acquire every year - and every year my resolution is to stitch just one napkin with one initial. Maybe this year...

Here is the lively market of Isle sur la Sorgue where sometimes in winter the Mistral slices fingers and noses like a cheesewire. Bargains are hard to find these days, though the joy of looking and small purchases provide a store of pleasure for the year to come.

Sunday 27 December 2009

Mary Wigham nears Completion

It is a little while since we have seen a Mary Wigham. Here you can admire Yumi-san's Mary which is nearing completion. What a wonderful year you have had - I hope you are all proud of your achievements! I feel so privileged to have your company. Thank you!

Saturday 26 December 2009

Boxing Day

Now I have had my mince pie and glass of sherry, I'll share some history with you. When I was small I had great difficulty understanding Boxing Day. It probably crossed my mind that it was something to do with the ringside sport because Henry Cooper (who once knocked down Cassius Clay, as he then was) was a neighbourhood hero at the time. Later, since we went to my grandparents on that day, and since they usually had something in a box for us, I thought that was the logical explanation. When, finally the true origins were explained to me, they seemed less logical than I had guessed - why on earth, would one be boxing up Christmas presents to give as gifts after the day itself? Bizarre. And then, even older, when I had a holiday job, I was given my first official Christmas Box by the company - 2/11d to buy a pair of silk stockings! Unfortunately, the gift had not been increased since the war and was woefully short of the 9/11d needed to buy a pair of tights. Not even enough to buy half a pair of tights, in fact. I raise my glass to you and hope you are enjoying your festivities.

Friday 25 December 2009

Joy to the World

The Metropolitan Museum, New York has some 24 samplers on line in its digital collection - click here- but do extend your search to look at all embroidered items as there are some absolute wonders to behold - one of which is this crib of the Infant Jesus. A Gift of Ruth Blumka, this 15th century Brabant Crib comes from the Grand Béguinage in Louvain where it was most probably used as a devotional object as in many convents of the day. The coverlet displays the family tree of Christ embroidered in silk with seed pearls.

Thursday 24 December 2009

Swaddling Bands and in a Manger Laid

Swaddling bands were bandage-like strips, sometimes of a uniform width, sometimes of a tapering width. After the newborn's umbilical cord had been cut and tied, the baby was washed, rubbed with salt and oil, and wrapped with strips of cloth to keep the little one warm and ensure that tiny limbs would grow straight. The swaddling bands would stay in place for around a year. Ezekiel 16:4 describes Israel as unswaddled, a metaphor for abandonment. Poor families had to make do with plain strips whilst richer families could afford the sacrifice of elegantly embroidered strips such as these Italian ones of 1600-1625.

These binding cloths are from Alsace and date from 1719-1720. These are just some of the wonderful items you see when you extend your search to embroidery in the V&A digital collection.

Wednesday 23 December 2009

Textile Collections on Line - The Art Institute of Chicago

The Art Institute of Chicago has a splendid collection of 102 samplers from the USA, France, England, Netherlands, Ireland, Germany, Spain, Mexico, and Denmark - whence the sampler above dated 1757.
Not a sampler this, but rather a special stitched picture from England in the mid 17th century. Stitched portraits in cartouches are frequently found on Stuart embroideries, sometimes on stitched caskets, and are perhaps a likeness of the maker, or family members of the maker.

Mexican samplers have a great exhuberance and this by Tomasa Casbal which she stitched in 1849 is no exception. The particular format of stitching around all edges of a square is very typical of Mexican and some Spanish samplers.
Also represented in the collection are some wonderful quilts, including Gees Bend quilts and this one of Buildings, Animals and Shields of around 1890.
Have fun visiting the Art Institute of Chicago!

Tuesday 22 December 2009

The Plimoth Jacket at Winterthur

I know that like you, I have been knocked over by the passion and inspiration and wealth of stitching design and knowledge that has gone into recreating the Plimoth Jacket. An appeal has just been set up to raise money to display the Plimoth Jacket at Winterthur, Delaware which will linked to a conference. Not only will they be dedicating some wonderful space to the jacket, but plan on a much larger exhibition to be mounted in 2011 which will use the jacket and the research surrounding it to tell a much larger story about materials culture and needlework. As with all museum exhibits and especially in these times, proper ’story-telling’ is expensive and for most museums, exhibitions must be funded externally. The original planned showing had to be cancelled because of lack of museum funds in a difficult economic climate. If you could donate just $5 it would make such a difference. Thistle Threads pledge to match all donations up to $3,000. To make your donation to this historic happening, simply click here.

Little Amager stitch by Adrian

Adrian from Boston emailed me the other day to send me this photo of his stitching. He told me that he is a 32 year old guy who has recently gotten into cross stitching. He's been been teaching himself mostly and playing around with making his own charts. He has stitched it as Christmas gift for his mom, whose initials are WW. Lucky mom! In case you missed the Free Download of the Little Amager Chart - you can click here now for your free copy. And if you are unable to purchase the Amager Panel of 1799 locally, you can browse or purchase by clicking here.

Monday 21 December 2009

Embroideries from The State Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg, Russia

I managed to keep my eyes open long enough the other night to watch a film on TV which started at 23.30 - it was a film I have been longing to see for some time - Alexsandr Sokurov's Russian Ark which is shot in one mesmerising continuous take - taking in 2,000 actors, 300 years and 33 rooms in the State Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg. There was no going to bed - it was time to Google the museum - which I now hear as a siren song, calling day!

The Hermitage Museum has a considerable digital collection. A real eye-popper is to type embroidery into the search box. Guess who fell off her chair! Here are just the tinies, most miniscule crumbs of what you will find in the textile collection which boasts suberb examples from most of Europe. The top image is of a German sampler from the late 17th - early 18th century. This second image is of a panel from late 16th century Spain.

This embroidered boot when do you think it was stitched. 16th century? 12th century? Try 5th century and make that BC. It comes from the Altai region in Russia and belongs to the Pazyryk Culture.

This is a sampler for a camisole embroidery from France of the 1780s.
And the final example is an embroidered valence is from 16th century Italy. If I were to show you my favourites from this collection, there would be no end. So, take a look for yourself - what are your favourites?

Sunday 20 December 2009

Fantastic Competition from In The Company of Friends

You could win this hand painted and grained Blueberry Hill Box filled with lots of little stitching treasures (except the scissors)made with love by Julie and Becky of In the Company of Friends simply by visiting their blog, signing up as a follower and leaving a comment about your favourite Christmas Traditions. What is there not to love about this? Thank you Julie and Becky. Just click here.

Sssshhhh! I'll tell you a secret...

If you were thinking Santa keeps his reindeer at the North Pole, then you could be mistaken. This is the view from my window over Hascombe Hill today. Might that be Rudolph? Who nose....!

Saturday 19 December 2009

Royal School of Needlework at Dover Castle * Chanel 4 Tonight at 8pm

It doesn't matter that you are snowed in - you can curl up in front of the telly tonight and see the work of the Royal School of Needlework who were commissioned by English Heritage to create wall hangings and textiles for Dover Castle to evoke the appearance and atmosphere of the keep, or the Great Tower, on the occasion of a royal visit around 1184. And if you miss it tonight or you are not in the UK you might be able to see the web version:
The four works have taken 1451 hours to complete by a team of 20 embroiderers over a period of just 3 months. The hand worked appliqué, with couching, stem, split and chain and ‘Bayeux’ stitches will use crewel wool, silk floss and gold threads, true to the style of the period with added embellishments of natural pearls for the rampant lion’s eyes, blue jewel-like stones on the horse’s trappings and gold stars on the azure canopy.

Friday 18 December 2009

T.6-1956 - A Plea to Reclassify

It always surprises me how in the middle of all the bustle and rush and deadlines and the call to move on to the next thing, an occasional quiet voice calls me back, becomes a persistent companion and refuses to be denied. I spent much of Thursday on a cold train; in my bag was an image of the Marianne Nevill stitched scroll of the Testament of St Luke I wanted to share with a friend who does not use a computer. The scroll had been described as a sampler in an auction catalogue and I was saddened that this testament to the incredible passion and life-long efforts of a woman had been dismissed by this classification. Other examples came to mind - The Lorina Bulwer Sampler in Carrow House Museum, Norwich; a stitched text in a private collection by someone with mental disability; and Elizabeth Parker's stitched text in the V&A - aka Sampler T.6-1956. How can it be that we continue to sanction the classification of sampler to a stitched document, the text of which includes: “O that I may but be saved on the day of judgement God be merciful to me a sinner but oh how can I expect mercy who went on in sin until or W remind me of my wickedness for with shame I returned to thee O God because I had nowhere else to go how can such repentance as mine be sincere what will become of my soul.” Perhaps it is time to dignify these sufferings as Stitched Texts, Confessions or Testaments....or maybe you can think of a better term, please? And perhaps we can ask the V&A to reclassify Elizabeth's work?
For a sea of sorrows is not a stage, and one who cries out is not a dancing bear.
Aimé Césaire

Thursday 17 December 2009

Julius Lessing's Pattern Book 1882 - New Infinity Download

In 1882, Dr Julius Lessing, Director of the Royal Industrial Museum in Berlin, published the first of a series of Old German charted patterns for needleworkers. It is quite a rare book now and I am very lucky to have found a copy.

We are now able to offer these patterns as an Infinity Download which comprises a black and white pdf download together with an editable JGG file for those of you who are now having fun with your Jane Greenoff Cross Stitch Designer. The price of this download is £5, $8 6€ or 800Yen. Click here to purchase. You can purchase the Jane Greenoff Software together with a fully editable version of the Beatrix Potter Quaker Sampler and Mary Wigham Ackworth School Sampler for $20. Just click here. For more information on how to work with editable charts click here.

Wednesday 16 December 2009

Leon Conrad * Workshops & Lectures * 28 March 2010 * Greenwich Village, New York

One of the highlights of Ackworth2008 were the Needlework classes with Leon Conrad. His patience and dedication to detail were much commented upon - not to mention his charm. And then there was his lecture on early embroidered book-bindings which animated the whole audience. He is a presence in the needlework work never to be missed if you have the opportunity to join one of his workshops.
And again, readers in the USA need not feel neglected, since Leon will be visiting your shores in March 2010 - you lucky stitchers!

Leon is an expert on 16th and 17th Century needlework techniques and will be presenting the following programme on 28 March 2010:
Practical Workshop - giving deep insights into the goldwork stitches used on 16th and 17th Century pieces of English Embroidery such as Plaited Braid Stitch and its variations. Fee $250 if booked before 31 January 2010 else $300.
Veils of Mystery - a stand-alone lecture which reveals the beauty and unique qualities of English 16th and 17th Century embroidered bookbindings. Leon Conrad’s repertoire spans over 240 books from a wide social spectrum. Fee $15 if booked before 31 January 2010 else $20.
Stories and Symbols - sheds new light on 17th Century English Needlework Pictures. Leon reveals new evidence as to the significance and symbolism behind the motifs used and new theories as to the function and role these pieces played in the social world of their time. After this lecture, you’re guaranteed to see spot motifs in a new way! Fee $15 if booked before 31 January 2010 else $20.
For more information and booking details click here. Here is an additional contact link for you.

Tuesday 15 December 2009

Congratulations to the Plimoth Jacket Dreamers and Stitchers

The Plimoth Jacket, once a dream, is now a reality! Under the excellent project management of Tricia Wilson Nguyen over 250 stitchers including an Air Force captain just back from Afghanistan, a trio of monks, and a husband and wife team who spent their 36th anniversary stitching sequins, and many, many others who flew in at their own expense and volunteered their time over 3 years, one of the most ambitious stitching projects of our time is now completed. Just celebrate the astonishing beauty of the design and workmanship that has gone into this project. It is something of which we can all be proud. What had you in mind to stitch tomorrow....? "Whatever you can do, or dream you can do, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it. Begin it now." Goethe

Monday 14 December 2009

40 Superb Bengali Quilts (Kanthas) on Exhibit * 12 December '09 - 25 July '10 * Perelman Building, Philadephia Museum of Art

I know how frustrating it must be for some of you whenever I urge a visit to the V&A or some other UK museum, when there is really no chance you can travel there - simply because I feel incredibly frustrated that I shall not be able to visit this marvellous exhibition at the Philadelphia Museum of Art curated by Dilys Blum and Darielle Mason. However, there is a catalogue of the exhibition which presents the entire two Kantha collections of Jill and Sheldon Bonovitz and Stella Kramrisch for the first time. I have ordered mine already!
I am so excited by these quilts which display a spectacular gaze on Bengali life, family celebrations and beliefs. This particular quilt, just over a yard and just under a metre square, was stitched in Faridpur, Bangladesh in the 19th century, its maker is unknown. The fabric employed is cotton plain weave and the stitches used are: back, buttonhole, darning, running, double-sided (except for writing), marking cross, cross, dot, eye, stem filling, fern, and seed stitches.

So if you are able to travel to Philadelphia to see this exhibition, please do - and remember to take a spare pair of eyes with you, so that you can see it and experience it for all the many unable to be there.

Sunday 13 December 2009

Rose Huskey's Mary Just Before the Snow Falls

It is such a pleasure, having seen beautiful Marys in the making, to meet them again in their completion. We last saw Rose's Mary in a glowing summer cornfield. Rose writes:I finished Mary last night and photographed her outdoors just moments before the beginning of a beautiful snowfall which has lasted all day. The evergreen flowing into the right hand side of the photograph is last year’s Christmas tree. We buy live trees which are planted along our driveway when the Christmas season is over. The initials on the right hand side are the birth order of my wonderful grandchildren; Emily Alexandria, Lillian Maud, Isaiah Donald, Madeline Mackenzie, Sofia Ruth, Meredith Claire, Harold Lewis, and Nathan James. We selected a lovely piece of oak for Mary’s frame which my husband will be constructing in the next few days.
It is my hope that Mary will be joined by the Beatrix Potter sampler in early February. Beatrix Potter features the initials of our five children. By April 1, the Westtown sampler of Elizabeth Sharpless - which will have the initials of the ten generations between Elizabeth and me - will complete the trio. The girls will make their home in the “adult” guest room. (The children’s guest room is, quite frankly, a wooly, wild West themed room with a Texas Star quilt, bridles from beloved horses who are no longer with us, and lots of old postcards featuring cowgirls. I can’t help feeling that it is not quite the right environment for sedate Quaker ladies! ) In the meantime, I am so excited to have Miss Mary done in time to show our holiday guests. Lily expects to finish her sampler over Christmas break. It is breathtaking!
Thank you so much for the pleasure you have given us by sharing this sampler on your website. We wish you the happiest of holidays and a wonderful New Year.

By: Rose Huskey
And all our love to you and your family, Rose. We wish you a blessed Christmas.

Rose Huskey

Saturday 12 December 2009

Squirrels on the line!

Squirrels have nibbled through our land line and I live out of range of a mobile network, so I have to go to the nearest town car park to log on at the apologies for any delays in contacting you.

Friday 11 December 2009

Festival of Lights - Hannukah

It is a time for lights and candles. Last Sunday churches lit their first of four Advent candles and one more will be lit each week until the fifth candle is lit on Christmas Day itself. This sunset marks the beginning of Hannukah, the Jewish Festival of lights. Each day for the next eight days, successive candles will be lit, until all 8 are shining together. A ninth candle is the chief candle which stays alight and from this all the other candles are lit. So here is a Festival of Lights chart for you to use to spread the light. Just click on the image for a larger chart for you to copy and use. Happy Hannukah! Happy Advent!

Thursday 10 December 2009

My Favourite Things - A Double-Darned Middle European Scarf

Sooner or later in conversation, a new friend will ask me to tell my favourite piece of needlework. Oh, dear. It is a bit like asking someone who is thrilled and constantly amazed by life to recount their favourite dawn, or sunset, or happiest moment. And so I feel quite fickle when I reply that I don't have one. There is so much staggering beauty everywhere. But, whenever I go to the V&A, I will spend at least twenty minutes contemplating this scarf. If ever there was painting with a needle, then this is it. I have not seen watercolours as beautifully modelled, shaded and completed as this ripe pomegranate.

To me, this is eye-wateringly beautiful. To think this is the fruit of human hand and eye, a needle and is both fearful and desirable. It is a mountain I know I can never hope to climb and yet, I am glad, proud that it is there - I delight that it has been not just climbed but surmounted with such grace by one of us.

Here you can see some of the minute detail of the border which is larger than life-size, and only by looking at the work at this level of enlargement can I begin to comprehend how it was ever stitched.
The technique used is double-darning and so both sides are virtually identical. On the reverse, the single thread of the ground fabric that is picked will be marching just out of step with this side - hidden under long darning stitch.
And it is not only the sheer beauty, the impeccable technique, the portrayal of the flowers and fruits, but the overall concept of the whole scarf. A square scarf can be worn with one of four corners forming the focal point - literally - and this scarf is so designed that by choosing any one corner, the palette and density of design of the two adjacent sides combine to create a unique effect. Just another good reason to go the V&A next week! (You will find the scarf on the wall near the carpets in the textile gallery, beyond the sampler room.)