Tuesday 31 May 2011

Illuminating Fashion * The Morgan Library, New York * 20 May - 4 September 2011

Just opened, this exhibition at the wonderful Morgan Library New York explores the evolution of fashionable clothing in Northern Europe—from the fashion revolution of the early 14th century to the dawn of the Renaissance. Drawing on over 50 illuminated medieval and Renaissance manuscripts and early printed books, the role of social customs, cultural influences, and politics—such as the Hundred Years' War, the occupation of Paris by the English, and the arrival of the Italian Renaissance—in shaping fashion is examined. Importatn, too is how artists used clothing and costume as codes to help viewers interpret an image. In these works of art, what people wear is a clue to their identities and moral characters. To dramatize these fashions, four recreated ensembles replicating clothing depicted in the exhibition will be on view. The garments were made using period hand-sewing techniques and authentic materials—including silk velvet, gold brocade, linen, straw, and ermine. The exhibition is generously underwritten by a gift in memory of Melvin R. Seiden, and by a grant from the Samuel H. Kress Foundation. Major support is provided by The Coby Foundation, Ltd., with additional assistance from the van Buren family in memory of Dr. Anne H. van Buren, and from the Janine Luke and Melvin R. Seiden Fund for Exhibitions and Publications.
A splendid catalogue of the exhibition is available and you can order direct from the library - the extra dollars you spend with the library are an important source of funding for them, so do buy direct if you can. If that is impossible for you, then the catalogue can also be obtained through Amazon.

Monday 30 May 2011

Free Draw - Gertie Wandel Cross Stitch Pattern Book to Give Away

As promised last Monday - we are having a draw for a free copy of Gertie Wandel's lovely old cross stitch pattern book.
It is paperback with 230 pattern pages, some in colour. The little text there is, is in German.

You can begin composing your own sampler designs straight away.

To enter the draw just click on the flying angel below and tell me your idea of stitching heaven. The winner of the draw will be notified next Monday. Good luck!

Sunday 29 May 2011

Whether A Christian Woman Should Be Educated

Talking of paper cuts - they have a long history and go back to the 16th century at least. One of the most intriguing is this intricate lace-like cut executed by Anna Maria von Schurman - if you look closely you can make out her interlaced insignia. Was this the work of an idle woman with nothing better to do than, as Germaine Greer might put it, waste time?
It would appear from her portrait that Anna Maria (1607-1678) indeed had a frivolous overfondness for lace. While that may be the case, she also had a piercing intellect. A Utrecht scholar, she was the first woman to gain a university degree in the Netherlands and her thoughts and writings were widely respected, even outside the Netherlands. She wrote a minutely argued treatise Whether a Christian Woman Should Be Educated; the method of her argumentation appears not only to rival but outdo those of her male contemporaries and to to read it is to gain an insight par excellence in the prevailing rhetoric of the time.
Some of the cut works were small feats of engineering as can be seen in this illustration where the woman holds up for admiration a three dimensional cut she has just completed. Note the scissors and paper snips on the surface before her. It is fabulous - oh what I would give to be able to do similar! Give her a round of applause everyone!
This last cut is from Amsterdam, its maker is unknown and it was cut in 1686. All these images can be found in Geknipt! a fabulously illustrated Dutch language book which is a precious gift of my friend Erica. The ISBN is 90-5730-517-8. The Museum Martena, Franeker, in the north Netherlands (on the route between Harlinger and Leeuwarden in Friesland) that has a special room reserved to Anna Maria von Schurman - to discover more, click here.

Saturday 28 May 2011

The Scissor's Praise - The Work of Ueli Hofer

I know this might be off topic for you, but perhaps like me you like cut-paper work, particularly when it is as mesmerisingly beautiful as the work of Ueli Hofer. I don't know, I can just look at this image of the Ark and the animals and the astonishing depiction of rain for long periods and keep finding something new in there.
The work above is a beguilingly simple repeating pattern of potted plants - but its rhythm of colour and form is simply superb.
And the works above and below are masterpieces - I can't add anything else at all that wouldn't detract from them.
Ueli Hofer was born in 1952 in the Emmenthal, Switzerland. He was first apprenticed as a baker - patissier. From there he turned to creating this cut works of art. In 2003 he was granted a prize for his art from the canton of Berne which enabled him to spend 6 month is New York. To see more of his work, just click here.
I can heartily recommend the book of his work - the ISBN is978-3258062389.

Friday 27 May 2011

Not Just a Pretty Box

And Lot 453 is a very pretty box indeed, isn't it? And it gets better. Can you resist taking a peek inside?
Now aren't you pleased you let your curiosity get the better of you? So what is this all about?

This is a rare French musical Sewing Necessaire Automaton of around 1890. It has a key-wind two-air cylinder movement driving windmill sails and a rocking ship on stormy sea, in silk-covered case with ormolu mounts, with deep-purple buttoned satin interior lining, mirror in lid and fitted section for gilt scissors, thimble, stiletto, sewing needle and one missing tool. It measures just 7.75in. (19.5 cm) wide x 5.25in. (13.5 cm) high (the exterior has been restored with antique silk, interior lining and ormolu mounts are original). Musical sewing necessaries are only occasionally found with mechanical scenes fitted into their lids, and this form is particularly unusual.
On the underside is a paper label with pen inscription: This Musical Box was purchased at the Sale of the Duchess of York by Ld. (Lord) Chesterfield. It was the Gift of Rackes who wrote a journal and other friends of the Duchess. If correct, the inscription presumably refers to Princess Victoria Mary of Teck (1867-1953) who held the titles Duchess of York from 1893 to 1901, Princess of Wales from 1901 to 1910, and queen consort to her husband, George V of England, from 1910 to 1936. Enid Edith Scudamore-Stanhope, Lady Chesterfield, lived at Beningbrough Hall in Yorkshire from 1917 to 1957. Following her death, the contents of the house were sold at auction by Curtis & Henson in June 1958.
Accompanying the lot is a photographic magic lantern slide showing a royal gathering at Windsor in 1907. The Princess of Wales can be seen in fifth place from the left.
This amazing necessaire is for auction on 28 May 2011 at Auction Team Breker of Köln, Germany. Email: or Telephone: +49 (0) 2236 38 43 40
to register your (absentee) bid. The estimate is 2,000 - 3,000 Euros.

Thursday 26 May 2011

Pricking - Not Only For Fingers, Not Only For Needlework - For Grand Masters, Too!

No need to look so astonished! It is a fact. These angels congregate in one of my favourite panels in the National Gallery in London. It is a painting by Piero della Francesca entitled the Baptism of Christ. When I was working on a pan-European project some years ago, a sister project, also funded by the EEC (as it then was), worked away in the National Gallery, digitally imaging all the paintings there. Some lunch times I would pop along to see how work was progressing. As you can imagine the rig for imaging these vast masterpieces was huge and the imaging took a considerable time - but what could be seen, which could not have been perceived by the naked human eye was truly gaspworthy. We are all familiar with pricking and pouncing pattern heets to transfer designs from books of patterns or drawings onto fabric for stitching. What I had not grasped until late in life, was that this method was used also by the Grand Masters of painting and their schools. Look closely at the draped garments on the angel to the very left of the detail above.
And now see what is normally invisible to your eye.... pounced dots! The design for this garment was transferred from a cartoon on another source using the prick and pounce technique we know so well. In painting the technique took off in the mid-fifteenth century, depending, as it did, on the more ready availability of paper.

Wednesday 25 May 2011

Cat or Dog - Or Errrr?

In the weekend colour supplement there is usually an interview and one of the usual questions put is 'Cat or dog?' So I posed myself this very same question on your behalf to save you the cost of all the phone calls. OK, we used to have dogs when I was small. Since my father was an old navy man they were called Bosun or Skipper or Bosun II or Skipper II. Then when I was a young, independent woman living in the cramped confines of London, cats tolerated my company in exchange for whatever could be gleaned from my fridge when I was out at work. How cats learnt to open the fridge door is still a mystery. But when I had children of my own, we had neither cats nor dogs. The children had bite size pets, and I mean that most bitterly as some of these little animalcules were quite nasty nippers - particularly when being rescued from the back of the fridge, the back of the washing machine and other dark places they seemed to prefer instead of the nice warm, well watered, well provisioned little homes we provided for them. Their bids for freedom left me totally exhausted and often ratty. Just don't talk about the stick insects - I have nightmares still.
So, cat or dog? I can prevaricate no longer - I have to admit that I adore rescue cardigans. And here you can see some of my favourites. I enter a thrift shop and it is as if all the cardigans start jumping up and down and wagging their sleeves, saying buy me, I'm the one for you. And this cardigan certainly was the one for me. It has lovely teapots and tea cups all over the back and front and I call this, in the Japanese manner, my tea-time-going-cardigan. Especially when my grandaughter is having a tea-party for dolls or teddy bears. It is my favourite cardigan of all time.
This next is not so much a cardigan, more a decorative covering for arms and I wear it such a lot with many different things, not just dressy items. I love its fine crochet and classic silvery greyness.
This, you might say, is the empress of my collection and is by David Emanuel. Yes, someone did actually turn it out of their house and home.....!
If I were to explain why I chose this cardigan, which admittedly has seen better days, it could all get long-winded and a bit confusing. So, to be brief, or as brief as I can be when talking about my favourite cardigans, it has something to do with those little velvet pockets. One day, I shall recall exactly what they put me in mind of...
This last beauty is not so much a cardigan as a whisper of warmth. Not so much one cardigan as a Tweedle-Dum and Tweedle-Dee. It consists of two finely knit mohair garments, one inside the other. The inside one is white and plain knit, the upper one is in palest lime and has a delicate cable-twist.
In fact when it comes to cats or dogs, this cardigan can outcat and outdog the rest with the number of hairs it leaves in its wake. So if you see me coming towards you wearing this, give me a wide berth!
And just one last word - or to be truthful - nearly twenty. The best cardigan for the chilliest, bleakest days, is always the one your loved one has just taken off!

Tuesday 24 May 2011

Stitched Memories of a Voyage Round the World

Bonhams have some splendid ship embroideries at their auction on 25th May. I particularly took a shine to Martin Forsberg's work entitled: In Memory of My Voyage Around the World - S.S. Memphis City of which you can see a detail above.
And here is an image of the entire work. The estimate is $800- $1200 and the lot number is 2034.
And I am a sucker too for a clipper ship with its top gallants flying in the wind! Son number 1 - Gareth - did stunt work for The Pirates of Cut Throat Island and was up there in the top gallants! We keep watching the video with binoculars, magnifying glasses and microscopes and we can only conclude they cut his scenes! This embroidered beauty is Lot 2033 and has en estimate of $2000 - $3000.
By contrast with the ships above, this is a very serene image. Lot 2032 has an estimate of $1000 - $1500.
And because I have had a long term, on/off love affair with Cape Cod since I was about 8, I had to include this anonymous work - Lot 3070 with an estimate of $500-$700. Whenever I fly into Boston or New York, I am nose against the window looking out for this giant fish hook projecting into the Atlantic with always the same excitement as if I had never seen it before.  One of my favourite books is The Outermost House by Henry Beston about his house on Cape Cod, and I love to read it by an open window when there is a high wind blowing!

Monday 23 May 2011

And The Winner of The Official Buckingham Palace Guide Is

There could be only one winner this time as I can conjure no more copies for now. But thank you to all the many who entered the spirit of the draw and took time to share their history. By way of a little consolation I thought you might like to see this embroidered map of London made in 1951. If you look closely for Westminster Abbey, you will see a married couple with an attendant there. If you want to buy it then Locke and England are the auctioneers you need to contact - the sale date is 26 May and it is lot 141. Just click here for more details.
You told me last week about the number of years you had been stitching - some of you deserve length of service gold medals! Thank you for all your emails in which you not only told me how long you have been stitching, but also your first encounters with stitching - your emails made me smile they were so heart warming. One lady, Giovanna from Italy, still has her first big finish hanging in her kitchen: she made it for her crafts class at school in the 1972-1973 school year when she was 11. Giovanna says: Could anything be more 1970s?, My mum stitched the stem-stitch antennae, I just couldn't get them you can see, it was stitched on linen: my mum got me started on that straight away - the youngsters who stitched all those wonderful antique samplers didn't have Aida!
Well, you really set me off reminiscing! Many years ago I can remembering stitching this piece on a sampler for my parent's wedding anniversary - like many of you I came to cross stitch through the lovely Danish pattern books of the time. This is from Gertie Wandel's lovely little cross stitch book of old motifs. And would you believe it? When I went hunting to scan a page to show you...
...I found 2 copies! Which means that next week we shall have a draw for this book also. Look on the blog next week for the details of how to enter.

And the winner of the Official Buckingham Palace Guide is Celeste from California.

Sunday 22 May 2011

The Sacred History of Knitting and Free Jigsaw Download

Many of us are already familiar with the knitting Buxtehude Madonna that was painted by Master Bertram of Minden around 1400, but here are some other images with which, perhaps, you are less familiar. The image above is totally wonderful and shows Mary knitting intarsia - the yarn she is using is probably silk since this is a Siennese painting by Ambrogio Lorenzetti of around 1345 - a time when nearby Lucca was an important European centre for silk. The wonder for me is how she is organizing her yarns to keep them from tangling. Having done intarsia work myself I know what a problem this can be. I used to put my balls of wool in separate little baskets - but here, having the yarn on free moving spools is just the best idea. And look at that carpet! Do any of you use the little finger rings for threading your wool through when you knit intarsia?

Here you can see the Buxtehude Madonna - so-called because the painting belonged to the altarpiece in Buxtehude, near Hamburg in Germany. Mary is knitting in the round as we were taught to knit socks at school - in this way there are no uncomfortable seams. So this fits in with Christ having a seamless garment that was rent and divided as spoil at His crucifixion. In The Sacred History of Knitting, Heinz Edgar Kiewe argues that sackcloth was really sprang - and also that Christ's seamless garment was wrought using a sprang technique.
Here is the subject of our miniature jigsaw this week for which I purchased special copyright. It is a painting by Tommaso da Modena who also painted around 1400, which shows an early Madonna with Christ at nurse. Behind you can see an open book of prayers and also the yarn spool organizer that we saw in the first image by Lorenzetti.
In this last panel painted a little later in 1465 by Nicolás and Martín Zahortiga which is in the Spanish Museo de la Colegiata de Borja, we can see female saints busy with their work.
In this detail of the panel above we can see the central figure also knitting in the round, while those seated on either side of her are making braid.

I hope you enjoy your jigsaw this week. However, sadly, this is not going to work for Mac users. Instructions: Click here next Click Open, then click the .EXE file name and click Run, when you see the jigsaw puzzle, click Play Too many pieces? Try clicking on Trays on the top tool bar to create any number of resizeable trays to sort your pieces ........ you can also click the Cheat button and watch the puzzle solve itself! The software is by David Gray designer of Jigsaws Galore - the powerful jigsaw player and creator for Windows.

Saturday 21 May 2011

A Beautiful Deborah Cockin Start from Cristina in Portugal

What a pleasure it is to see this early start of Deborah Cockin's 1806 Ackworth School Sampler from Cristina in Portugal. She is using a beautiful thread - Penny Wort by Hand Dyed Fibers - and that is going to work very nicely. If you have yet to purchase your Deborah Cockin chart download or would like to see more, just click here for more information. Cristina has a lovely stitching blog in English and you can visit her by clicking here.

Friday 20 May 2011

The Emma Dent Embroidery Collection at Sudeley Castle, Cotswolds

My good friend Bertie of the captivating Samplers and Buttons blog was waxing most enthusiastic to me yesterday about her recent, wonderful visit to Sudeley Castle in the lovely Cotswolds. Situated near Winchcombe (a delightful town just a few miles north east of graceful Georgian Cheltenham), Sudeley Castle is well known for being home to Queen Katherine Parr, fond step-mother to Queen Elizabeth I. It is surprisingly unknown as yet for its wonderful collection of textiles. Nearly 100 years ago Sudeley Castle was rescued from its ruined state and restored by the Dents and the Brocklehursts, two leading textile firms at the time of the Industrial Revolution. To celebrate the restoration a new and extensive exhibition of embroidery and textiles was launched in 2007, built round the Emma Dent Embroidery Collection, one of the finest collections in the country. On display are examples of textile techniques spanning 400 years from a magnificent 17th century Stumpwork casket (with no less than 7 secret drawers), delicate lace, Whitework, costume and furnishings to sumptuous silk wall hangings and woven tapestry. Do visit if you can! For more details click here. For a free information PDF download just click here.

Thursday 19 May 2011

Tea Towels, Photography and Torchons

I'll explain the cheesy picture in a minute. Basically, I have been stitching tea towels today - and they look a bit boring. Because when I say stitching, I really mean hemming and since I made a couple of dozen, that was a lot of stitches with not too much special to show for it - apart from a couple of dozen hemmed tea towels. They are not monogrammed, beflowered, becrossed - just plain unbleached, untouched linen. The thing is, if you have a church bazaar, a charity sale and need tea towels, then I'm your gal. I can turn them out in vast quantities. I use anything from good but unusable striped or huckaback vintage table-cloths, Laura Ashley furnishing linen in sale swatches to some fabulous natural linen I stumbled across in IKEA at the end of one of those visits when you can neither find the way out nor the will to find the way out. It is always surreal buying fabric in IKEA since you buy by weight - at least you have time to take stock and literally brace yourself for the journey home. When making tea towels, after I have cut out the pieces, I pin up my hair into some fanciful pompadour, then get out the steam iron, put on some music - today I listened to Ry Cooder's and V M Bhatt's Meeting By The River - and I finger turn and steam press all the hems. I have the art of turning double quarter inch hems without running over my fingertips with the iron as it follows along, down to a T. When I have done, I unpin my hair and after all that steaming it can look as good as if I'd been to the hairdressers. Sometimes it's just a disaster. But it's like Christmas, you never know what might turn up, so it's fun. I do recommend it. Anyway, I realized I was a few tea towels short of a decent batch, so I went for a hunt to see if there was anything else that could possibly be reimagined as a tea towel. And that was when I found my stash of fabulous tea towelling I had bought in Bologna nearly 10 years ago! In my heart of hearts I think I just wanted to preserve it pristine - it wasn't that we have had the same tea towels for ten years - please don't think that of me. So here we are getting to the nub of our topic - you are very patient, thank you. I was in Bologna with Richard who was photographing something to do with the G8 conference - he is FRPS which means he faffs around with a lot of photo kit and the time before I joined him on assignment I had the astonishing experience of fleeing a bomb, turning a corner and finding myself face to face with someone in a balaclava who had a finger on the trigger of a very serious automatic gun. Fortunately I didn't scare him by screaming and he didn't jump and pull the trigger and just turned away. But that is a story for another time. There's another one that involves a sea-eagle when I was mountain climbing in the Lofotens, but if I go there now, we'll never get anywhere tonight. So, back to Bologna. A favourite city of mine with its miles of portici and fabulous cloth and book stores. Instead of lying in the road pointing a camera at serried rows of confronting armed populace, I went shopping for linen. And that was when I found the tea towelling which you would have loved too - it has two lovely green stripes down each selvedge and I bought a few kilos of it to take home. When a couple of years or so after Bologna, I started imaging sampler collections for museums, Richard would sometimes come along and help out. Because, wonderful photographer that he is, he was a darling innocent as far as samplers were concerned, I had to find a way of expressing to him the distance and size of tripod rig I needed for detail shots. While Newton had his Newtons and Ohm his Ohms as standard units of reference, I, Jacqueline Holdsworth, devised the TeaTowel. Shots were either one TeaTowel, half a TeaTowel and so on. (Richard is a good British husband who is very tea towel savvy.) He got so good at photographing samplers in the end, he imaged the entire Micheal and Elizabeth Feller Collection for the new book. And they are fabulous, fabulous images and not a balaclava in sight! So, now you know why I am wearing the T Shirt (and not a Tea Towel). Well, almost. Richard fended off pains in his knee and ankle while working and as soon as the work was complete he was whisked off for surgery - three lots in fact. AND that is why I decided upon a Richard Holdsworth fan club. There's not just me, understand, there's also one or two others. So TORCHONS. No this is not the French invitation to arsonists and other deviant pyromaniacs you might first imagine, torchons are French tea towels - and I make those too - for French friends. My kind French friend, Marie-Louise, says that just as the Japanese wrap their gifts in beautiful cloths, she also wraps gifts for her friends in vintage French tea towels. Imagine how wonderful it is to be on the receiving end of those gifts! I thought you might like to try. Go on - call me cloth head - I'm not proud!

The Flame of Stitching

We are getting very excited here about next year's Olympic Games - we have heard that runners with the Olympic flame will be passing close by - heading towards Guildford on their route from Greece to London. I don't think I shall be volunteering this time to run part of that epic relay but I shall certainly be there to cheer whoever does. It seems to me that we are all part of Life's relay, particularly where the art and craft of stitching is concerned - it is down to us, after all, to keep that torch aflame. And what a privilege it is to be part of a tradition that reaches back into hallowed time. I am so enjoying my Great Courses series of lectures on Northern Renaissance Art - there are so many wonderful paintings - and I keep being struck by the cloths depicted in them. It seems that just about everyone reading not only rests their book of prayers on a cushion, but also they keep it protected by the addition of another embellished cloth. The one above has four tassels, which to someone finding it hundreds of years later might suggest a chalice cloth, but as we can see that may not always have been the case.
My favourite is this altar painting - a central panel of a triptych by Robert Campin that depicts the annunciation. Here the Virgin is still engrossed in her devotions, undisturbed as yet by the arrival of the Archangel Gabriel. You can see the cloth upon which her book rests. And not only that, but also another book on the table resting on the bag that would have contained it and kept it safe from the elements. And look again. Can you see the elaborate, ritualistic towel hanging by the window, like a Rushnyki, ready for visitors who have rinsed their hands? This room is full of ceremonial cloths. While our rooms may not be filled with particularly symbolic or religious cloths, there is a certain ritualistic power in the cloths we make to adorn our homes. They announce to family and visitors a pleasure in sharing; a delight and beauty in that which can be made by the hand with simple tools; and  the warmth of time devoted to giving what may not be deemed necessary, but that which is over and above anything required, expressing nourishment for the soul. And it is not just you or I alone, our friends or Guilds sitting in their room, but an entire world of stitchers, with different languages, traditions, stories - and songs. Let's all sing our song of stitching together for others to hear, now and in the future.
This short clip celebrates the artwork called The National Unity Rushnyk, which arrived at the Ukrainian Museum in Manhattan's East Village on Friday 26th January 2008.

Tuesday 17 May 2011

Beaded Purses at Tennants on 21 May

In addition to the Quaker samplers we posted last week that are up for auction this Saturday, Tennants of Leyburn have some lovely lots of beaded purses in the sale which you might like to look at. I love not just the designs on these purses, but also the feel and handle of beaded items - they feel wonderful.
Each lot has a number of purses mixed with sewing necessaires and with an estimate of around £100, this is a lovely way to start a collection, if you haven't already.
To see more lots at Tennants, just click here.