Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Itchy, Itchy, Itchy 

Oh gosh, something has given me a raging case of hives. I'm reminded of my youth and the weeks I suffered through a case of the measles. We had childhood diseases in the 1940's my dears.

Mom sat by my bed for hours to keep me from scratching. She read countless books and stitched on a project from McCall's - their cross stitch pheasants design. It was iron on transfers in those days but she made a special trip to Salina to get what was known then as "church linen". Some of the finest stuff you could stitch on. She used DMC threads which were the high end fibers in our neighborhood (those came by mailorder).

I have her original notes and the charts and the embroidery which has suffered some thread loss over the years. It will get restored and reframed and go to one of my sisters one of these days.

A sad ending to the measles story was although I recovered, I infected mom who was in a graduate program at Kansas State and she couldn't teach or report to her research project lab for several weeks.

Needless to say when I came down with a case of chicken pox, she recruited my Aunt Nadine to care for me. Mom paid dearly for being of the generation before many vacines were available but unexposed to various childhood diseases in her youth.


Oh, ouch!!! That itching is so uncomfortable- but it *is* an excuse for long, luxurious baths!

Hope you fell better soon!
soooooo sorry -- hope they clear soon, hugs,R
Hope all the childhood 'itches' don't find their way back. I too have a cross stitch pheasant, framed yet. Must have been the 'in' pattern at the time.
I just ended up with chicken pox - for the second time, and no idea where it came from. These childhood diseases are awful - my mind turned into pudding for two weeks. BTW, the doctor says I had a very light case.

I wonder if someone can help me. I'm looking for an embroidery tool which I figured must exist 'A Common Thread, a French movie where 2 women work on an embroidered/beaded piece - I very much want to know which gizmo they were using??? I've been looking for just such a gizmo for ages and so far get blank looks. I figure it must be at least similiar to a pulled rug gizmo but it would need to be fine for silks etc.
Can anyone help me please?
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Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Sad But True 

We've nearly lost the ability to produce many of the embroidery techniques from the golden ages of embroidery.

One that comes to mind is that of needlepoint (no not canvas work). Needlelace has begun to show its head above the horizon again here and there. Americans are becoming fascinated with the various techniques and regional forms and European practitioners are banding together to preserve the skills necessary and to teach new practitioners.

I've recently run across one of the what I believe must have been one of the commercial slayers of needlelace - The Singer Sewing Machine Company. From 1900 up until the 1950's they pushed use of the domestic sewing machine to produce needlelace.

Their workshops throughout the world trained needleworkers to turn out every sort of embroidery using a Singer. For a jaw dropping experience check out one of the many printings of their book Singer Instructions for Art Embroidery and Lace Work with instructions and lessons on every sort of embroidery including Cutwork, Shaded Silk, Cross Stitch, Canvaswork, Embroidery on Wood, Tape Lace Embroidery, Brussels Lace, Guipure, Crochet Lace -- you get the picture. It is like visiting a funhouse and seeing onself distorted by crazy mirrors, in my opinion.

My question is Why? Why not just sit down with a needle and thread and enjoy embroidery? Was all of this done in aid of sweated labor for the rag trade? For upholstery fabric for furniture makers? To mindlessly fill empty hours? To justify owning a Singer?

I don't believe this was our finest hour. I admire some sorts of modern machine embroidery where a good deal of imagination and skill is used to exploit its techniques for free expression, but to do needlelace fillings on net - no thank you very much.

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When I met her, my Grandmother-in-law pulled out some beautiful hardanger/cutwork (both hardanger and the more swoopy cutwork) that HER mother had done... it was lovely. It looked like it had been done by hand. It was done on her Singer in 1/2 the time. People wanted the results, not the time-consuming work of the actual handwork.

What depresses me is that this is even more expanded now. We have "handcrafted" items that are made so cheaply either in other countries or by individual machine (it's handcrafted because the operator had to pay attention to it...rather than computer generated) so cheaply that people don't value the real artistry and craftsmanship involved in doing this in the traditional manner.

When my cousin found out I design needlework patterns, he said to me, "I don't want to insult you, but why don't people just stitch it with a machine? Why put all that work into something that could be done easier?" I couldn't explain to his satisfaction.

I'm amused by this, though, because I recently posted about my recent forays into real needlelace myself (http://stitchingwithashimmy.com/2008/09/05/needlelace/)! And Mary Corbet is on a needlelace discussion at NeedleNThread.com!
To my way of thinking, of course many people love a machine that can produce similar results without doing the labour-intensive work. It happens all the time.
Why do we use a computer when we could actually write something - using a pen to produce lovely marks on the page? Many people enjoy the act of writing; I do, myself - I like to see the marks I make, trying to make each letter matching in style, size and shape. Yet I stll use a computer and printer sometimes. In fact, why email when so many people profess to enjoy getting an envelope in the mail? Writing is a dying art.

There are so many other examples - have you ever bought a bunch of flowers? Yet so many gardeners bemoan the profusion of cut flowers, let alone vegetables, available to purchase. Why not grow them yourself? Lovingly tend the little plants that grow from the seeds you planted, nurturing them until they produce their blossoms and fruit? Gardening is a dying art.

Machines have their uses. You and I prefer to do the work ourselves, by hand. I enjoy the process of embroidery, and sometimes the finished article might reside unseen in a cupboard, for years. But I loved making it. Some people think I am mad; I think they are mad for growing their gladioli themselves, when it is so much easier to just go and buy them.

Why is it like this? Just human nature I guess - in any field at all, one group of people will enjoy the process, another group just wants the result; and they will switch places when it comes to a different field - the first lot wanting the result and the 2nd enjoying the process.
Dear Linn:

I am SOOO excited to have stumbled upon your blog! I haven't had time to read anything yet- just had to say "I found you!".

Hope you are well- I'll be back to catch up!


I just found your blog too. I am proud to say that I totally agree with you on do it by hand! I do own a basic sewing machine, but all my creativity is performed by hand. I am so happy someone is saying this. What happens when the machine no longer works? You really need to know how to do it under your own power.

I am happily reading. Thanks,
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Sunday, September 07, 2008

How To Read A Book 

Everyone has that ONE mega needlework book that would required for being stranded on a desert island. Mine is The Needleworker's Dictionary by Pamela Clabburn. It is 296 pages of well researched and well written information.

As with many books of this sort that are compilations of information, it is not meant to be read cover to cover in a race with the clock. It is meant to be dipped into.

I like to open it at random and read just one page well. It is allowed to continue to the next page if the first page cuts an entry off partially finished.

Page 74 is rich in entries including the idea that cutwork (16th/17th century) is considered the forerunner of all the needlemade laces. The illustration unfortunately is black and white but is recognizable to me as a piece of silk/gold embroidery in the V&A collection with the brides made of gold passing. Known as opus scissum.

Also a thought provoking entry on cushion work (opus pulvinarium) and the various opinions as to the meaning and execution of work designated as opus pulvinarium.

Other entries on the page include cut canvas work, cut-cloth flower embroidery, cutting gauge and cuttlefish.

Better to have read one page well than many pages superficially.

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Saturday, September 06, 2008

Itty Bitty Wonderful 

I adore working itty bitty stuff. Give me a scrap of silk gauze and I'm a happy camper. One of my favorite leisure stitching projects is oriental carpets stitched on the stuff.

And now I find that there are other mini fanatics out there and they have banded together. Warning!!! The Miniature Needlework Society site is one of those places that encourages you to keep clicking and clicking and clicking.


Linn, you are an evil, evil woman! (I mean this in the nicest way, of course.) Thanks for a link to a cool site. Now I have a hankering to do a Medieval doll house! - Fionna
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Friday, September 05, 2008

A Good Read 

The Subversive Stitch. The title of this publication is a bit confusing on first glance. It actually is an exhibit catalogue for two exhibits mounted by the Whitworth Art Gallery (Embroidery in Women's Lives 1300-1900) and the Cornerhouse Manchester (Women and Textiles Today).

The exhibits were organized some four years after the publication of Rozsika Parker's The Subversive Stitch 1984). Although I agree with some of Ms. Parker's opinions on the subject of needlework and the female condition and disagree with others, her book has become an old reliable standard in the literature of feminism and needlework.

The combined catalogues contain a considerable amount of well-considered text and helpful illustrations. There is also an excellent preface by Rozsika Parker and a recommended read if you can find it. An excellent companion to the book. ISBN 0 903261 24 3

Thanks to my friend Joanna B. for pointing out my need for this catalogue. In Louisville I managed to spend my bit of birthday money on books and this was one of them.

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Sounds like a great book! Does it have any photos of Elizabethan or Jacobean costume accessories (coifs, night caps, jackets, sweet bags, etc.)?

Did you get it from Ruth Kern books?
Hi Melinda - nice to see you here. I was just chatting about you and your work at the IEC last week.

No graphics in the costume department unfortunately and yes I did buy it from Ruth Kern who had the bookstore at the Louisville event so if she still has it in her catalogue, I may have bought her only copy. Good luck at having a look at a copy. I think it would appeal to you.
Chatting about me? nothing bad, I hope. I'm still slogging away on the sweet bag book, but at least I've finished my own.

Thanks for the info on the pictures in the book - I'm still going to keep an eye out for it, because it sounds interesting, but it sounds like I don't need to go to extraordinary lengths immediately.
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Thursday, September 04, 2008

Serious Study Needed 

After a few days at IEC (International Embroidery Conference - EGA) in Louisville, some thoughts and concerns have come to the forefront of my "little grey cells."

I am concerned about how little original research we are pursuing in the field of embroidery. I see what often passes as "research" which amounts to reading of a select collection of literature on the subject and subsequent publication of a compilation of opinions and/or findings of those authors. Another sort of "research" seems to consist of a fairly complete reading and regurgitation of the extant literature available.

However research concerning embroidery is research concerning actual embroidery, the actual things, the examples themselves - not just the literature about them. And to be valid, this research requires the researcher to examine a sufficient number of articles to be able to form a believable opinion and articulate that opinion in conjunction with a significant body of available literature. Far too many of us reach to "research" embroidery when we have no access to the objects involved. Photographs have improved, descriptions may be lyrical but nothing can equal personal observation. Just try lecturing on the brushstrokes of an impressionist painter when you have only seen photographs of their work. Far better to study a sort of embroidery available for your personal examination in adequate collections.

Every discipline uses a research methodology. I've been tottering along using models from my academic background in physical science and social science. Not good enough my friends. So although I've examined a good deal of embroidery, read a good deal of literature and listened to a good many opinions it is time to take a step in a much needed direction. So I'm beginning to explore the world of research methodology as applied to material culture. I'll let you know how the adventure unfolds.

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I think this is a brilliant idea - I look forward to future posts ...

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