Sunday, September 23, 2018


I know I have been really quiet of late - that's because I was so busy vacationing in far off parts of the world, getting a kid off to college (it is really hard to send a kid overseas - a lot more than buying a mini-fridge!), and working!

One of the things I have been working so hard on is the Five Senses Tent Stitch Casket Stitch-Along. And I am soooo excited - I am done with it!!  Here are all the pieces roughly lined up with how they will wrap around the casket.  That big back panel was just killer and I spent so much time on it.  I even took the thing around the world again - working on it in New Zealand, Bora Bora, and Sweden.  I started it in Sweden two years ago and it has been to France, Greece and Italy too.  Quite the traveled casket!

Can't waste any time - too much to do!

There are some statistics too - 181 tubes of soie paris.  That is how much it took.  Now not all of those tubes are completely empty as some colors didn't run out.  But tons of greens and blues as you can imagine.

Finished embroidery for a double casket
Now you can imagine how excited I got laying them all on the floor to see it all and my mind started running towards - OK - let's glue it on!!  Then immediate deflation.  It will be weeks before that can even happen - ARG.

I am on a speeding train at the moment (hence no blogging).  When I got back from an extra long vacation (we took kids far away and out of much internet as a last big family break) I had to go full time into manufacturing and packaging Frostings.  Half of them are out the door as well as the Gold Master Class kits.  Then sending kid off to London.

Then started two months of keynote talks.  How do I get myself into these?? It started with a 3 hr one on mentoring robotics.  The next three are in rapid succession and span topics from reproduction materials to the revitalization of the high-tech textile industry in Massachusetts for a meeting of industry leaders.   In other words - nothing overlaps!  So I have been heads down in powerpoint for weeks with gasps of air stitching this casket.

Tomorrow I turn 50 and when my family effectively couldn't put a party together without my help (really...why do I need to make every decision - just jump out from behind a couch with some random assortment of friends and get a cake and light it on fire!).  I told them to bag it because I just don't have the bandwidth to plan my own party and I certainly don't want to clean the house for it.  :-)  And yea, the 25th anniversary three weeks ago was not exactly an event either.  We grabbed a bite during soccer practice.

Tuesday I leave for London-Lyon-Paris-London-Nottingham-London.  It is a long delayed trip to see manufacturers of our yummy threads and deal with the next several years of planning on what to make.  Finally with my older team gone and the younger team having many years to grow, I can take the time to do a big business trip.  And it gives me an excuse to see my son in school.  And as luck had it (haven't had the chance to tell the stories) - the other captain of the team is there with him too.  I am so looking forward to it, even thought this is just chaos.

But I thought I would come out of the shell for a few minutes and blog the finish of the casket.  When I get back - the last of the threads will be in my house for another huge Frostings shipment to the next group of people.  I will be getting ready for the Winterthur symposium.  And THEN I can finish this casket!

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Collection of 17th Century Embroidery for Sale

This week is antiques in New Hampshire week, part of the Americana circuit that includes NYC in January and thus a good point to go looking for embroideries.  After the sampler, quilt, rug rich auction earlier this week, this weekend has a collection for sale at Northeast Auctions that is rich in 17th century embroideries including at least one casket that was featured in the Cabinet of Curiosities course.

The Susan Mackay and Peter Field Collection is up for sale on August 18th.  Some of the embroideries are below.  The grouping starts at Lot 128 and there are over 20 of them, including a stump work mirror frame that is described in its title as in "attic condition" which I think is the funniest way of saying 'more than a bit rough':

Sunday, August 12, 2018

Folk Art Auction Today - Sunday, August 12th

Skinner Auction Sunday August 12, 2018

Skinner Auction Sunday August 12, 2018
There is a great auction of an amazing folk art collection here in Boston today and there are many, many embroidered samplers and memorials if you are in the market to buy or to look and see.  Most are New England samplers with a few of the highly valued New Hampshire and Rhode Island ones.

If you love folk art, there is something in every category from pottery, furniture, paper-cutwork, paintings, toys, etc.  At the very least it is fun to look through the online catalog!

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Autopsy of the Montenegria Stitch

Many years ago, Amy Mitten did the very difficult thing of figuring out the Montenegria Stitch, a stitch popular on 17th century samplers, and how to work it around every type of direction change possible - and published a little book on it.  If you have ever come across this challenge - you know what a dilemma it is.

Montenegria Stitch - challenging with that long leg
You may have come upon this stitch with its long leg that goes over two graph squares when working a sampler, any modern designer only includes it as a linear band - a straight line that divides an area.  But on 17th century pieces, it was used for bands as you would use cross stitch today - things like this graph:

A typical area where Montenegria Stitch issued in 17th century pieces
So just look at that pansy.  How would you approach that????  There are right angles, there are diagonals that to into a straight path, there are verticals that move into a diagonal.  This is a one-way street to the UFO pile because you can't figure out how to do it!

That is why Amy's little book was FANTASTIC.  At first it is hard to imagine a book that only covers one stitch - but when you realize that as you move from a downward diagonal to a vertical - you just look that up that case in the book and it shows you the stitch progression to do it.  And then as you approach the next transition, you look up that case - and there is it!  Figured out for you.  To be honest - if you like band samplers from the 17th century - it is a MUST in your library.  And yes, it takes 128 pages to diagram out all the conditions you come across.  This version also does the reversible method as well (OMG) so it has been expanded since the first edition that I use all the time.

The book on one of my whitework samplers for the course
This book is spiral bound to make it a work horse while stitching.  But it has been out of print for a VERY long time.  Amy has decided under popular protest to reprint it this summer.  But because it is on special paper (it holds up to constant use) and spiral bound, she isn't going to do it 'on risk' - meaning she is taking preorders and will hold only a small number of copies after printing (I asked) for a few late comers/mistakes in shipping.  So if you want it - YOU NEED TO ORDER IT NOW.  It is going to print soon and will ship in mid July.

Why am I promoting this???  

Well, I am teaching the big whitework course, starting later this year.  It will be band samplers with the reticella and other cutwork on it.  There will be a design your own portion of the course.  So I can't anticipate every direction change that you might need for each stitch you decide to use.  And I am NOT going to plagiarize her book and republish all the information in it.  I considered including the book in the course but I have no idea how many people will be in it and how many years it will run - so ordering 100-500 books is just not feasible for me today - especially with the materials I am having manufactured.  So I am ENCOURAGING people who are thinking of the class who don't already have the book to get it.  One band stitched in montenegria stitch with this book and you will scream "WHY DOESN'T THIS EXIST FOR OTHER STITCHES???".

There are a handful of stitches that have these long arms where the stitch progression goes over more than one graph square.  They are, to coin a phrase "a bitch" to work on 17th century samplers.  And they never used cross stitch for those bands, I am sorry to tell you.  In one of the samplers I am including in the course, I used a different one that was original to the piece and it took me a full month to figure out the transitions and to graph them for the instructions.

So Amy's book - totally worth it.

Some of you might say - well, Darlene O'Stein's The Proper Stitch is the bible of these stitches.  Yes it is.  But she only diagrammed out 1-2 cases for each stitch.  While it is a wonderful book and is a fantastic resource, to have diagrammed out all the cases for these types of stitches it would have been 500 pages and thus they weren't and so it leaves the geometry yoga to you.  That's where Amy's book came in to do one of the most frequent stitches.  I have done about 40% of the cases of Alternating Double Backstitch for the Whitework course.  It takes FOREVER.  So save yourself the agony and just get Amy's book.

Monday, June 18, 2018

5000 meters of silk purl

Wow.  Did you hear that earthquake?  That was a manufacturer falling collectively out of their chair as that email got read.

Yup - I just ordered 5250 meters of silk wrapped purl for the Harmony with Nature Casket class that I expect to start offering next year as well as sending over pictures of the piece in process to show the hard workers at the purling machine who make the threads!  I heard that the purling machine is 'open' at the moment and so I decided to get it busy again before someone else claims the time.

That's a lot of silk purl and it will take a LONG time to make it.

I will get back to the robot story soonish.  I am under the gun at the moment stitching to get ahead on lessons while I am gone as well as packaging items for a new frostings box with my teen summer labor AND getting ready to disappear on vacation for weeks.  So I expect to blog during vacation when I am in down moments.

A section of back frieze under stitching at the moment

Friday, May 25, 2018

One Earth Designs

So the kids had been doing quite a lot of research on the designs of solar cookers and would review things as they were getting their presentations ready.  Near the end of the 'season', they discovered that one of the companies, One Earth Designs, who made big solar cookers for developing countries was now wrapping up a Kickstarter to get a portable, lightweight version of their much larger version made.  It was basically the manufactured version of what the kids were designing.

Excited, the kids and us coaches started trying to track down the company - amazingly it had grown out of Harvard and MIT and so we found someone we knew who knew Catlin Powers, the CEO.  Catlin was incredibly generous with her time and responded to an email from the kids and arranged a conference call with them.  She was in China at the manufacturing line at the time.

The kids explained the problem and the dangers to the Sherpa people and this amazing opportunity to get their prototype to Antartica in three weeks to do the type of testing others needed to see to be convinced.  Her system could actually be the one that could go to Mt. Everest.

Catlin did one better - she offered to hand carry production unit #1 back to the USA a week later and send it to us to make Nick's flight to Chile to meet up with his planes to Antartica.  We were over the moon!  This was changing from a nice project that the kids did for the competition to maybe even coming up with a solution that could be implemented to save lives on Mt. Everest in the next year!

We had to wait for months for the expeditions to get back from Antartica, but the pictures and data were worth it!!  It melted water at altitude and at -15 degrees, beyond the conditions at Mt. Everest base camp!  In one of the pictures, the person aligning the solar cooker to melt ice is an indigenous Sherpa gentleman working in Antartica before going back for the Everest season.  The report back was that they all wanted to try it more!

During this time, Catlin was able to take her product on Shark Tank and get a $500K investment from Mark Cuban!  Quite the story on their project.  Right now they are getting ready to talk to the Everest exploration contacts when they get back from the Everest season (April-May).  It would be an amazing full circle if next year we send one up to Everest for trials.  If we can reduce the amount of propane used - it will save lives.

The kids putting together the SolSport cooker after it came back from Anartica

Posing with the SolSport in the yard - we might just do a cookout before we send the unit back to Catlin!

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

An Amazing Robot

Their robot was a brick that could accept complicated mechanisms like hats that were put on top.  It had gears embedded in the top surface that were connected to the motors below and if there was a set of gears in the attachment, they would link up and the two motors below could drive them.  It was super compact and the wires were well managed.

We have a system that they use to design the base robot and the attachments that gets all the kids involved and divides up responsibilities so all the kids creativity and work is involved.  The solving of the board with a series of 'runs' the robot makes takes months of work - especially to make the robot work the same way every time.  Its Legos, you know!  They try all kinds of ideas to look for lines, reorient the robot against a wall, and generally all kinds of ideas to help the robot get back on track with the natural deviation off the trajectory that being a plastic machine engenders.  Since the robot has to go eight feet to the other side, just a few degrees off its heading can get the robot stuck somewhere.  That is what takes so long.

But think about it, by insisting that the robot performing the same task exactly and being fault tolerant (just like in the metal robots), we are teaching the kids to be detail oriented and to think of all possible avenues for failure and to come up with a solution.  Exactly what you want in a future doctor, autonomous car designer, or pilot.  After what happened this year in the metal robots - I said to someone that I would definitely fly in a plane these kids designed as I know they care about exploring all avenues.

That's what it takes to win the competition because when you get there, you find the event staff have almost always built a model wrong, installed one wrong, and that the tables themselves have holes or knots in the wood that make the robot go over a bump and veer off course.  We simulate that by putting stuff under the matt, putting a book under the corner to make it off kilter and not declaring victory for our robot until we have either taken the stuff off the table and turned our table (so variations in the plywood surface are somewhere else) and gone to a different team's house to run our robot on their homemade table.  That's why they haven't lost a robot game at any competition in four years.

So the robot did amazingly at competition and they won the robot performance award for top score at the qualifier.  But it wasn't good enough for them - the first run just never ran well enough on all the different tables (you have five runs, switching tables) and so back at home the next morning, they threw away four months of work on that run and totally redesigned it and its attachment - and got it running and trained with it in two weeks.

There are 535 points on the board.  They had designed in 460 points as what they could get done in four months.  The hope was to advance to the Worlds and then take the next four months to get the rest of the 75 points within the 2 min 30 sec they had to run the robot.  Seeing that the German 17-year olds were only putting up 340 points at their championships - we knew we were doing really well.  Here is a video of the night before competition when they got several perfect runs in a row.  The second run shows that driving team is even smother and had excess time left over at the end plus overlays of the methods used to keep the navigation of the robot on track.

As a casual observer, you might notice that there were two different driving teams - this isn't the norm.  Also the kids were all clustered around the table while it was running, each doing a different task such as being the ref, score keeping, time keeping and generally watching closely to see if the robot made a mistake so they could diagnose.  These are all techniques we use to make every member of the team highly tuned.  It is hard to design or program if you aren't up on the details.  And by all driving on the team - they all have to hold themselves close to the level of the best driving team.  In other words - be a team and be 'all in', not a hanger-on and on the team in name only.  You can also see the general affection - and remember - this is the night before the state championship that they are hoping to win.  Preparation, preparation, preparation makes for lower stress.  That was the eighth night in a row they were there after homework was done.

The mechanisms that they developed this year were truly inspired.  I love this one as it is the idea of one of the girls and there were five versions of it until this last one and I think four kids were involved in the building and perfecting of the versions.  It has to flip the manhole cover and keep it in the circle - it was a task that almost no teams attempted.  The big problem was there were two manhole covers and so somehow this device had to go over the bridge in the middle of the field - but it had to be close to the ground to flip the cover.  So the kids devised a 'drawbridge' like system that if they lifted an arm in the back it pulled on strings that would lift up the manhole flipper while they crossed over the bridge.  No matter what, when crossing the bridge the robot would get wonky so they programmed a series of moves to look for lines to square the robot up again and get back on heading.  It was incredible.

This is a video of the mechanism.  One thing we use extensively is the slo-mo video function on their phones.  One kid will film the robot doing something that isn't working all the time so they can then see the action in slow motion and figure out why it isn't working.  They use this really effectively to fine tune their programming and mechanisms - this was an example for the judges.

At the state championship, they had the top three scores of over 100 robots.  They didn't make their 460 because one of the main models wasn't built correctly on the tables.  Ours was - we have a dad who is a master lego builder (an official and rare title from Lego).  He examined ours and realized what was off.  But we still had a score that put us with the top five teams in the world at that point.