Thursday, December 24, 2009

Christmas Eve

mixed media, beads, applique, and surface work
from the collection of Kathleen Weston

Mixed media, surface work, beads, organic matter, netting,
and acrylic paint on velvet and canvas.
From a private collection.

Christmas Eve, the fourth day of the Winter Solstice, Yuletide. Today is the last day the sun stands still on the horizon at its southern most point. Tomorrow it begins its journey north!

Life can never have too many Christmas Eves--a day of delightful anticipation. The journey is greater than the destination.

Today is a good day to write out an Embroiderers’ Christmas List. What is nearest to my heart, art, and craft that I want Santa to bring me? First of all, I want a book called A Pictorial History of Embroidery by Marie Schuette. A very rare book, but I would love to get my hands on it. It is a book I ran across in my time in England and which I have wanted a copy of ever since. Also, if there is a copy of Medieval Embroidery kicking around the North Pole with no one much interested in it--it would find a permanent home here in Albuquerque.
I would like a complete color wheel of Splendor silks. Splendor is the silk thread that comes in twelve strands and has the most marvelous colors. Carole and I (well, mostly Carole) have come up with the twelve numbers of the colors that best match the twelve-part color wheel in our Individual Correspondence course called Rainbows Bend. The complete set is so sumptuous and stunning that I get a real kick every time I see it.

Rita Curry-Pittman has made one of the best needle books I have ever seen. It contains two or three needles of every kind that a hand-embroiderer might need. She has decorated it with cunning machine stitches and it has pages of labeled needles from the largest to the smallest, both sharp and tapestry. It is a handy tool that every stitcher should have.

I want the old plastic and metal spring hoops back. These were the first generation hoops from the late 70s and early 80s that had plastic rims with springy metal inner hoops to hold the fabric drum tight. I can’t remember what they are called, but I have one left that is repaired with thread and glue. It is the best. I have second-generation hoops that are similar, but are pale imitations of the real thing.

My wool threads are in a series of plastic bags stuffed into a larger plastic bag which in turn is stuffed into a specially made (yes, I can use a sewing machine) tote bag for them. What I want is a system for keeping these wool yarns pristine without plastic, and yet in see-through, protectors so that I can see them as I work. Wool moths are bad here in NM--my forty-five-year-old turquoise rebozo is quite holy now (I do love Christmas puns; well, any kind of pun actually) from the little angel-like moths that visit it every summer.

What would I like to give for Christmas? There are certain women of my acquaintance that I would love to give a full set of DMC six-stranded cotton--Mary Analla, Alice Lucero, Marlo Lucero, Ethel Lucero, Barrett Lucero, and Jerry Stremsterfer to name a few.

I want Ann to have copies of all my blackwork papers so that she can continue her journey into the great realm of blackwork embroidery. (This is one wish I can probably bring about sometime soon.)

To everyone who does cross-stitch exclusively to any other stitching technique. Get a life! Let me show you the beauties of whitework, blackwork, crewel, Hardanger, and most anything else besides the lowly cross-stitch.

To the women of Mrs. Finley’s classes at the Grants Women’s Prison. May embroidery give you inner peace and serenity to continue life’s hard, hard journey.

Happy Solstice, Merry Christmas, and may your New Year be bright and bountiful.


1. Ayrshire
1. Bullion
3. Crewel
4. Deerfield
5. Embellish
6. Farthingale
7. Guilloche
8. Hedebo, Hardanger, Honiton
9. Kelim
10. Jane Bostocke, 1596
11. Hungarian point, Bargello, Florentine
12. A palace, a prison, and then a museum
13. A metal spangle used in blackwork.
14. 1910 or 1920, either year is correct
15. Queen Elizabeth I (Tudor), Elizabeth Countess of Shrewsbury (Bess of Hardwick, Cavendish) and Queen Mary of Scots (Stewart).

Friday, December 18, 2009

Clear as Mud

Papaver Rubens
Counted work done on perforated paper that was printed with a digitally altered photograph by the artist. The threads are a silk-wool blend of a single plied yarn.

St. Columba's Wreath (detail)
Surface work done on kimono silk ground that was painted with acrylic paint and oil pastels. The threads are single and double strands of 12-stranded silk.

How are you doing with the quiz in the previous post? Answers next week!

I was talking with Carole Rinard, as I mentioned before, after the Sandia Mountain Christmas party. We almost always settle at my kitchen table for a cup of coffee and an hour of talk before she heads back up to Los Alamos after the meetings. This time we talked about the frustrations of a crumbling of preciseness of words within embroidery. In my purview, it started with the naming of canvas embroidery as needlepoint. Needlepoint is a type of lace. But someone a hundred years ago or so started calling canvas embroidery needlepoint. Now the lace is eclipsed and has faded into the huge world of canvas.

The words that Carole is principally worried about are floss, thread, fiber, strand, and ply. Floss originally meant fly-away filament silk that is very hard to handle, but which has a wonderful satin sheen when stitched and laid correctly. An example is the old Ping-Ling silk. Flossie is a name farmers gave to milk cows in reference to their silken tails. But in modern parlance floss is used as all-encompassing word for stranded cotton, or stranded silk, or even stranded linen threads. Well, this is just wrong and also can be very confusing.

A strand is one/sixth part of six-stranded cotton. Or one/twelfth part of twelve-stranded silk. A strand is made up of plies (ply in the singular) of the particular fiber it is made of, whether wool, silk, cotton, linen, or polyester. When we speak of four-ply wool, we are talking about one strand of wool made up of four plies of (weak) spun wool that are not made to be pulled apart and used singly. A thread of strands is made to be pulled apart and used singly or in bunches that are fractions of the stranded thread. A thread is what goes into the needle to be stitched.

So my needle is threaded with a thread that is one strand of twelve-stranded silk made of several plies of filament silk twisted together. The fiber is silk.

Or my needle is threaded with two strands of six-stranded cotton, each of which is made up of several plies of cotton. Cotton is the fiber.

Wait until we start talking about evenweave in fabric.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Christmas Party and Quiz

Yesterday was the Christmas party for Sandia Mountains Chapter. We had a wonderful time. It was at Bert Kroening’s home which is ideally suited for this sort of thing. Her walls are covered with needlepoint that she has done over the years. There are over a hundred pieces on display. And at this time of year, she has her holiday decorations out plus, a tree done completely with hand-made ornaments. It was a delight to be there.

At the Christmas party we conduct a minimum of business, have a silent auction whose proceeds benefit our scholarship fund, and we eat. The party is also an excuse for a killer pot luck? Once again, I was not able to taste everything--there was just too much. And it was all so good. We could have stayed all afternoon and then eaten supper.

We had some guests with us too. Bev Goetz’s daughter Reenie came. She is always most welcome. Jenny Wilson’s neighbor, Kay, was there. She is a delight. And a special guest, Wilcke Smith, came. Wilcke is a nationally known fiber artist and teacher. She has work hanging in the Albuquerque Museum; she has been in 27 books; and she is friends with nearly everyone in the fiber art world. We are lucky to have Wilcke living in Albuquerque.

The whole party was a blast for a bunch of dames who are handy with a needle and a cooking pot.

I don’t know yet how much money we made for scholarships, but we did see currency exchange hands. Anyone who is a member in good standing and who has been a member for a year or two is eligible for a scholarship. These scholarships are to be used in furthering your needlework education. I received one two years ago this month that enabled me to attend the 2008 national seminar in Louisville, KY.

One of the highlights of the party this year was a trivia quiz of fifteen questions that I gave out to teams of two or three. In the end no one answered all of the questions, but Carole Rinard missed only one. We had some other winners too. One team answered nine questions and another answered eight. As you can tell, this is not some panty-waist quiz. Here it is below in its entirety. I will post the answers in a week or so. Any one can send me the answers, say by Christmas, to test your knowledge of history and current use in embroidery. Good luck!

Education Matters

1. What embroidery technique starts with an "A", is named after a Scottish city, and is a type of lacy pulled work?

2. What word starts with a "B" and is the name of both a stitch and a metallic thread?

3. What embroidery technique starts with "C" and is derived from an Anglo-Saxon word meaning wool?

4. Which American town, starting with "D", has a "blue and white" embroidery named after it?

5. What word, starting with "E", is used in embroidery as enrichment of fabric, and can also mean the enrichment of truth?

6. What piece of Elizabethan underclothing was used to hold skirts away from the body? This piece of fashion, which starts with "F", was invented first in Spain.

7. What stitch is normally done in three colors thread that is also the name of an architectural motif?

8. Name three types of embroidery that start with an H that are lace or have lace insertions.

9. Starting with K, this is a stitch named after a Turkish tapestry technique in which the front and the back are identical.

10. What is the name and year of the earliest, dated European sampler?

11. What are three alternate names for flame stitch?

12. Bargello before it was the name of a technique was the name of something else. Do you know what it is?

13. What is a paillette?

14. In which century and decade was the Embroiderers’ Guild in London founded?

15. Name the three most well-known embroideresses in England from 1550 to 1600.

Bonus Question. What were the last names of the three embroideresses above?

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Stella Grace
Detail of a work that has the darkest values (a series of black French knots),
a lot of middle but differing values (the patterns),
and the lightest value (the background white linen).
This work is owned by Rocky Mountain Region fo the EGA,
designed and stitched by SK Wolfersperger

Blackwork Run 1

It starts on the left with a simple square and in one-step increments it becomes more complex and darker. At its darkest, it begins to lose elements and soon it ends in another simple shape.

Blackwork Run 2

This one is unfortunately pictured upside down. It too started with a simple square, but this is a one-step pattern with double rows. You can see it gets darker towards the middle and then starts losing dark value in a different way than it gained value. And it ends in straight lines.

Blackwork is all about value. In this case value doesn't refer to how much a piece of blackwork costs, but to its shading. Value means the darks and lights of a piece of artwork. One way of accomplishing the darks and lights is to modify a single simple pattern, gradually adding elements to it so that it grows darker and darker. You can see this in the two blackwork runs illustrated. A blackwork artist can create a run and then work a piece of blackwork with the resulting pattern. The work is unified because it consists of one pattern and yet the pattern varies greatly in value.
The patterns in Stella Grace are all related to one another by structure, making a very unified design. Patterns are easy to make up and easy to stitch in blackwork. Beginning blackworks may have a little trouble until their eyes are trained to see the small differences in value between the patterns. Patterns are infinite, or if they are not, then they are too numerous for this mind to graph and stitch them all in a life time.
By the way, the instructions for Stella Grace are available to buy from Rocky Mountain Region.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

The Fellowship of the Needle

Cross-stitched Cloth by Mary Analla

More Cross-Stitch by Grandmother Mary

Today was Cloth and Canvas, a monthly stitch-in of Sandia Mountains Chapter. We meet at member’s homes, and spend the morning stitching and talking. We eat brown bag lunches, talk some more, and then scatter. Today there were seven of us: Jane, Ellie, Cindy, Patricia, Bert, and me meeting at Rita’s home.

The fellowship and the sense of belonging among this group are very strong. Our topics of conversation range from grandchildren to Hollywood stars, to word origins, to EGA business, and then onto vacations, and Christmas preparations. It is a lively group with teasing and laughter. We do an informal show-and-tell right after everyone arrives. We pass around our current stitching and then pass around anything else we bring to show the group. Today Ellie and Bert were working on Christmas stitcheries. Jane was working on a class that was just sponsored by the chapter. Cindy was doing a needlepoint. I was working on my cross-stitch tartan. We have a couple of members who sometimes come just to talk and don’t bother with the stitching. But frankly, my cross-stitch is so boring that I need the stimulus of conversation just to get any of it done.

Stitching is my way of overcoming stress and tension in life. If I can get a needle in my hand and sit quietly with my work, my troubles seem to dissolve like salt on meat. This pleasure coupled with the conversation of old friends is my stillness and center. There are few finer things in life.

The two pictures I am including in this post are work done by Mary Analla who is my new son-in-law’s great-grandmother. Mary also belongs to a stitch group in the tiny village of Paraje on the Laguna Pueblo. Mary stitches for her church, doing altar cloths, clothing for the saints’ statues, and other ecclesiastical work. I am putting these two pieces in the post to show you that not everyone finds cross-stitch dull and boring, and not everyone hates it quite as much as I do.