Monday, January 13, 2014

Nightcap design

I tend to break 16th century English monochrome designs into 5 basic "families". The most commonly recognized are:

*The curving vines;

*Bands, often containing the curving vines, often on shifts and shirts;

*"Lozenge" patterns, in which the motifs are set into rhombus/diamond shaped areas (and in at least one example, hexagonal);

*"Diaper" repeating patterns- one or two motifs repeated at regular intervals throughout the entirety of the piece;

*"Free" embroidery- assorted monochrome motifs, placed both regularly and sporadically throughout the piece. (This is seen once we move into the 17th century pieces- it may be transitional from Elizabethan monochrome towards the later crewel work).

The nightcap is the second piece I am making towards attempting to achieve an "Expert" ranking in the East Kingdom's Embroiderers Guild, the Keepers of Athena's Thimble. Along with the shift, I'm doing a man's nightcap, and I plan to do a coif with a diapered pattern. These three items will represent 3 of the major families of English monochrome.

For this nightcap, I wanted to use some of my old favorites, but also play with some designs I haven't used before. I also attempted to make slightly more "masculine" motifs- the husband requested "no butterflies" (although we DO see them regularly on the extant nightcaps.)

I used borage, roses, peas, pomegranates, and honeysuckles again. I added more leaves, pears, and grapes. I used more birds; I included bugs of all kinds; and I incorporated a frog, squirrels, turtle, cat, and an elephant. The turtle, cat, elephant, and frog were taken from textile T.88-1925 at the V&A Museum. This wonderful piece is a bunch of assorted animals inked onto linen, thought to be for embroidery. I was so happy to use the elephant- while struggling to fill one void of space, I asked what animal he would like on it. The squirrels were taken from a man's nightcap at the Manchester City Galleries- nightcap 1959.271. It's hard to see online- the black silk animals have disintegrated, leaving only the outlines behind. I was fortunate to spend time in the study rooms this summer, and have many up close pictures where the outlines are visible.

I will be transferring the design tomorrow, using a lightbox. Although I did get a pounce kit, I may use that on the cuffs of the shift. It seems to be a more time-consuming method, since it involves multiple steps- first pricking, then pouncing, then inking. So the lightbox transfer allows me the most "can't wait to get started" gratification. This project is serving as a break from the shift, which although lovely, is rather repetitive in a large space.

I will be working the motifs in a black silk stem stitch, and possibly trying actual teeny-tiny speckling as filler. I will be checking in with the extant pieces for reference photos. I want to do the stem in plaited braid in a gilt passing thread, and the husband has already been asking about spangles. (I should have put a peacock in the design!)

Wow, been a long time...

My apologies for being so neglectful! I moved in August, and am working a new position at my school, so embroidery has been on the back burner.

Both sleeves are now done on the shift- so only the torso and cuffs and collar to go!

I also am in the process of inking the design for my husbands nightcap- Pics this evening, with more info on the design and motifs, plus plans for embroidering.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Pennsic Wrap -Up In Brief

I taught at Pennsic. :D

The following page will take one to the class notes I handed out:16th Century English Monochrome Embroidery.

This document also contains the appendices of all of the extant 16th century English monochromatic embroidered pieces I've found. A quick-and-dirty analysis of the data reveals roughly 80% of the pieces are uncounted, versus 20% possibly counted. More information on my observations is found in the class notes.

I hope this challenges the way we've been thinking about "blackwork". Please feel free to contact me with any questions or suggestions! I welcome all correspondence on this topic. :)

Monday, July 15, 2013

Review from England

I was fortunate enough to take a 10-day trip to England two weeks ago. I had made study appointments at Platt Hall/Gallery of Costume in Manchester, and the Museum of London. I had stopped working on my shift for a bit- I was secretly very nervous that after getting up close and personal with so many extant pieces that I would be doing is "wrong".

My trip was wonderful. I got amazing pictures, and everyone I worked with was very helpful and knowledgeable. And the trip confirmed a lot of what I was already suspecting, which of course makes me paranoid about confirmation bias. ;) Some details: every piece I looked at was of English provenance, late 16th to early 17th centuries. There were no reversible pieces- even pieces, such as forehead cloth 2003.65 from Platt Hall, which is blackwork and cutwork, was NOT reversible, even though it really looked like it could be. All of the collars were lined, so even if they are reversible, we can't tell.

To the best of my knowledge, there are no double-running reversible pieces currently existing of English provenance. Which, if one thinks about it, just makes sense. Why would people be making reversible pieces, if no one is ever going to see the back?

"But Amy", I hear you asking, "Portraits of Jane Seymour and Catherine Howard by Hans Holbein show geometric ruffles on the ends of her sleeves; surely they would be reversible, because one could see the other side?" And yes, those paintings exist. And looking at them, it's hard to say for certainty if those are actually reversible- they look like they could be. There's few extant English pieces with wrist ruffles- I'd love to examine boy's shirt T.112-1972 at the V&A- it does have embroidered wrist ruffles, although I haven't seen the undersides. Smock T.113 to 118-1997 does seem to have both sides of the ruffle the same- however, since there's use of detached buttonhole on both sides, does that actually count as "reversible embroidery" the way we suggest? What does "reversible" actually mean in embroidery? Does a neat underside count? Or do both sides have to be absolutely identical, with one the clear, precise, reverse of the other?

So my current thinking is that I could produce an shirt for use with a 1540s ensemble with an embroidered collar and embroidered reversible ruffles, and I may be able to defend that. I would be a little weak on evidence, having only a few pieces, and most of those paintings, to defend it. If I produce the same thing and wear it with a 1580s ensemble, then I'm getting WAY off track- by this time, English monochrome embroidery is very much evolving away from the earlier styles.

As always, my object is always to challenge preconceived ideas of thinking. Look for yourself, and draw your own evidence-based conclusions. Come see me at Pennsic, and argue with me about what you found. I'll happily incorporate new pieces into my own schema, provided they are a. English provenance, and b. dated 1500-1625. Have fun!

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Constructs and Blackwork

So I’ve been thinking about “blackwork” a lot. This has been influenced by my research for an Expert panel for Athena’s Thimble, but also by some recent discussions on facebook. I repeated my assertion that counted reversible blackwork is really not the norm for 16th century English monochrome embroidery, and definitely ruffled some feathers. And I understand why- as a constructivist, I understand that knowledge is based on constructs, and it’s upsetting when constructs are challenged.

In brief, a construct is a belief that is built and developed over time. As adults, our constructs tend to be very firmly built and solid- children have slightly more fluid constructs especially during the 0-5 years. Constructs include an emotional component, and people react violently in some cases when a construct is challenged. This is why you can teach a child that a cat is not a dog, even though both are furry and have four legs, but try to convince an adult that “blackwork in England is mostly not counted or reversible” and you will have a fight on your hands. And I understand. My very first pieces of blackwork were a charted counted reversible cuffs and collar. It was only when I really began LOOKING at what was there that I began to think maybe I wasn’t seeing the whole picture. And that took years of looking.

People respond with exceptions, citing the portrait of Jane Seymour with geometric counted cuffs. Which is a valid example. However, where do we draw the line? If we can say, well, rough 70% of the paintings during this given time and this given place, and 85% of the extant items show these characteristics, then, to me, those would indicate something “true” about embroidery in that specific time and space. And I think we need to recognize that time and space are CRUCIAL- just because we have examples of a low-neck gathered camisa in Italy in the 16th century doesn’t mean that English smocks in the 16th century were made in the same way. Embroidery, likewise, is not necessarily universal in style and technique. We can say with some certainty: This is most common of the pieces and paintings we have. There are always exceptions, and those rare anomalous examples. We have an incomplete record, so we may have to change our constructs in the face of new evidence. If someone unearths a treasure trove of counted reversible cuffs and collars, I will rework my hypotheses. But we have to make our assertions based on the evidence at hand- not we “want” to be true. And this means understanding ‘the common’.

If I’m judging A& or taking a class then I’m looking for an understanding of what we can prove are the dominating trends and characteristics, and NOT someone cherry-picking examples and pieces- that, to me, shows a lack of understanding about the art form as a whole, for a given time and space. But this also assumes everyone thinks like me- I strive to be a historian first, and an artisan second. As a historian, I have rules and confines which govern me- the historical record that exists is my teacher. I must make my decisions based on the reality of that record.

Monday, March 25, 2013

So that happened.

On Saturday, at Mudthaw, Their Majesties of the East, Edward and Thyra, offered me elevation to the Order of the Laurel. After much contemplation and counsel, I accepted. So I am now technically Mistress Amy Webbe, of the East. :) Here's a pic...I'll post more as I get them.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Projecte Update

Here as a progress shot of the blackwork shift- one and a half sleeves finished. I really love the look of the "free" blackwork. Which leads me to my next thought: I'm finding very, very few actual examples of counted English blackwork. We absolutely have counted monochrome embroidery from other parts of the world; however, if we work with the definition that blackwork is "16th century English monochrome embroidery", then, by it's very provenance, extant pieces of 16th century Italian monochrome cannot be examples of blackwork. More on this to come.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

On mastery- more questions than answers...

In response to my post about "thinking", someone made the comment about obtaining mastery "if that's what one wants to do". Which got me thinking about what exactly mastery is. What does it mean to be a master?

It occurs to me that we can point to some forms of mastery. We can look at an athlete, a musician, a fine artist, a dancer, and say that they produced something flawless. But can we say that about a novel? A dissertation? A composition? A theorem? It seems the products of our hands are far more likely to be objectively considered perfect than the products of our minds.

So what does it mean, then, to obtain "mastery"? Is it the act of producing a flawless object, or is it the journey required to produce that object? Can one be separated from the other?

And when does one become a "Master"? Is it a title one assumes on one's self? Is it a title one accepts from one's peers? Or from one's students? Or does true Mastery come when one accepts that one knows nothing? (Or perhaps one should not write blog posts when watching "Kung Fu Panda".)

Is Mastery even something one can seek? Or does the very act of seeking it nullify it?

What do you think?

Interlude- Drawnwork and Needlelace

The shift is very slow going. I'm possibly intimidated by the scope of the project, or possibly the actual size of the panels that need to be embroidered. The motifs themselves move quickly- 40 minutes or so. So I should be much further along, but I'm trying not to feel too guilty about it.

It occurred to me that perhaps I needed to do something smaller for a break, so I could finish something and feel like I accomplished things. I have a tendency to choose huge projects requiring hundreds of hours, so I needed to do something smaller.

I was considering the categories for Athena's Thimble, and realized I still had no ranking in 4 of them- drawn/open work, lacis, needlelace, and padded work. I had started working on a raised-work bee at Pennsic, and I may go back to that. But I decided to give drawn thread work a try.

I began by taking a piece of 3.5 ounce linen (approx. 80 threads per square inch) and remove 6 threads together. This may have been slightly more than I wanted, but I wanted it to be visible. I did a hem stitch to create a half-inch hem, and then went back and worked the drawn threads in both directions, creating, in theory, little boxes. Somehow, I got a torque in the material, so my lines slant- this may be a result of tension, hemming, or of removing too many threads. I should experiment in the future. I then decided to add a simple needlelace border, using 40/2 linen thread. Ideally, I would like to use 60/2, or perhaps 90/2, but I couldn't find those in my stash. the 120/2 was simply too lightweight too work. Overall, I'm happy with how my border came out, but it is a little "thick", probably due to the thread weight. The border was worked by making bars and covering with a buttonhole stitch.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Blackwork Shift- Progress Shot!

Here is a pic of almost half of one sleeve completed:

It moves much faster than the polychrome embroidery, averaging about 40 minutes or so a motif. I'm still struggling with stem vs. outline stitch, and sometimes the stitch just looks "rope-y" no matter what I do, but that is in keeping with extant pieces, so the overall effect is still Elizabethan, at least to my eyes.

I rather enjoy how each little critter has their own personality.