Tuesday, March 7, 2023

English Needlework 1600-1740 The Percival D. Griffiths Collection

There is a new book out on the 23rd of March that will become one of those 'rare library' books almost immediately.  There are many interesting facets of the book set to mention - many storylines.  But first, some pictures and video of the unboxing of this massive 2 volume set covering furniture and embroidery.  

This week the Magazine Antiques and Art Weekly have an article on how the books happened.  Avid collector John Bryan Jr. commissioned the project before his passing in 2018.  I feel fortunate to have visited his collection years ago, seeing many key objects that have fed into my research.  We owe John a debt of gratitude for funding this piece of research to pull together the existing pieces from this monumental turn of the century collection by Percival Griffiths so new research can happen.  

William DeGregorio graduated from the Bard College around the time of the seminal exhibit Twixt Art and Nature and worked at the MFA Textile Department as well as for Cora Ginsburg in NYC.  While not well known to the embroiderers of today, he is well known in the research and collecting sphere.  It was fun to get an email from Billy, as he is known, with pictures of rooms in Percival Griffiths home with a object on the wall circled and a 'do you have any idea where this is!?'; an invitation to join him for an afternoon in the detective hunt for where these magnificent embroideries have ended up.  Billy knew a handful of us who have been hunting in private collections or the back rooms of museums who might have a visual memory of something he was having special difficulty tracking down.  I remember the day when I was able to email him back and say - YES - I knew where a particular small set of baskets were - behind me in the dining room!  I had been able to acquire a set of them before people knew they were originally part of this huge collection.  So I am happy to have my pieces in the volume and identified.  

The volume on embroidery is about the story of how needlework collecting happened and of Sir Griffiths collection in particular.  This is fascinating as you wander through the inventory of pieces and realize that the majority of several seminal collections on the topic are dominated by what he found to be interesting.  This is important to me as I am doing some large survey work and was starting to wonder about numbers of types of objects that could be found and wonder if that was meaningful.  I have readjusted that thinking now that I have wandered the volume realizing how what we see today is so much the product of a handful of collectors in the late 19th century and their personal interests.  

Griffiths left two bread crumb trails for Billy to follow.  A set of photographs of his home's interiors and a book where he pasted photos of the objects collected.  This volume has a new photograph of an object and its location if it could be found and uses the older photo if not.  This is enormous as it means that some pieces we haven't seen have been modern photographed and others that we didn't know exist do have a picture now published.  I can't tell you how many "AH HA" moments I had wandering through the pages for hours on Friday when my advance copy arrived. 

I know that the cost of this volume set may be prohibitive at $300 and the run is only 1200 copies.  Perhaps you can convince a large local library that it is a must for their collection.  But there may be one or two readers who decide this is a must have for themselves, especially if they love furniture.  It can be preordered through many outlets.  But at the very least it is interesting to see how much of an influence collectors have on preservation and our museum collections, how their personal interests affect what we know, and how their largess can enable more research to occur.   

Tuesday, January 17, 2023

Cleveland Museum of Art Blog

Earlier this year I worked with Textile Conservator Robin Hanson at the Cleveland Museum of Art on a gold threads workshop for the American Institute of Conservation.  One of the absolutely amazing artifacts we pulled out for the workshop, and had inspired Robin to contact me, was a Lord Chancellor's Burse.  She and colleague Holly Witchey, Adjunct Professor of the Department of Art History and Art at Case Western Reserve University have started a blog about this object with many close pictures of the amazing embroidery.  It is worth a read into the background of this piece!

Lord Chancellor’s Burse (Purse) with Royal Cypher and Coat of Arms of George III, 1760–1801. England. Red silk velvet, silk embroidery, goldwork, pearls, jet, sequins, pendant tassels; 78 x 50 x 5 cm. The Cleveland Museum of Art, Gift of Mr. and Mrs. J. H. Wade, 1916.1366


Wednesday, December 28, 2022

Where are the 12-Days of Christmas?

For several years I have had a 12-Days of Christmas giveaway and that was again the intent this year with a bunch of giveaway stuff ready in a pile.  As Christmas came and went without it up I almost gave into the stress of not having it up on the 26th but drew a deep breath and decided to go with not posting at all.  Sorry to disappoint and perhaps things will get to the point where it is in the cards.  I hope so as that means that I have excess time to spend!!  I have read that all super-successful women with children really got going after 50.  I believe it!  Think about the extra effort in being a mom and when that weight is lifted after they launch, that energy gets poured into career/job.  Watch out - my empty nest is coming up.  But life is certainly throwing in quite a few curveballs trying to get there.

As I breezed through the news yesterday, I came upon another article on the theme of 'women doing too much' on CNN.  There have been quite a few in the last two years brought on by the shear exhaustion borne by women during these pandemic years.  They concern the new understanding (now didn't all us women know!?) that there is significant energy and work in the process of thinking about everything that needs to be done and it isn't shared equally at home.  In the past we called it 'wearing too many hats'.  In this particular article it pointed out that it is usually the woman of the family who is keeping track of all the to-do items regarding the holidays.  The mental lists of who you need to get a gift for, what to get, shipping schedules, etc.  That takes energy to make sure things don't slip through the cracks.  And often because we are all socialized for this, we end up holding in our heads the tasks that our spouse said they would take on to 'help us' and hasn't gotten done yet (i.e. forgot about).  Yes that one hit hard as on the 23rd, hours before my extended family was to show up I asked my husband as he was cooking (yes, he does do a great job with that - as long as I plan it) - did you get that gift for your mom?  Uhhhhh...I grabbed the keys and back out again I went to save the day.  Exhausting.

I had a business trip to work at the MET mid-Dec on some amazing embroidery research for several days and that added to the balancing act and likely was the time that would have ended up being the 12-Days giveaway.  But at the same time, I needed out of dodge badly and I didn't realize it until I had been on the train a few hours.  The experience of the last few months melted away as 'it wasn't my job' at that moment to be Dr. Mom (ok, so the Dr. Dad texts were coming in for me to dispense advice on what to do).  As I was able to focus for a few hours on my work, I realized how much I haven't been able to do that for months.  My son at home had three concussions since late Sept and the dizzying set of symptoms have kept me on a knifes edge constantly.  I swear that even when I get him to school, he shows up a few hours later back with a migraine and I go into high gear again figuring out the triggers, calling the school, etc.  While the doctors are caring, they don't have answers.  My friend who is at Children's Hospital admitted to me that the research on recovery and thus their recommendations are changing every six months (yes, I agree!).  And on top of it, people who have learning differences are removed from all studies as they 'mess up the data' and doctors don't know what to do about their different symptoms.   

So I have had to dig into current research myself and figure out what is going on in my son's head and search out the right people to help him.  I play 20-questions with him constantly to tease out all the cause and effects daily in an effort to deduce what is going on.  We play small games to figure out capabilities as his abilities/deficits are confusing.  He can 'robot' like normal now but will often throw up after taking a math test.  I kept track of all the complaining and realized that he was right - he wasn't forming proper memories of new material.  All the while, holding him up emotionally, dealing with his teachers and the school about the big picture, and listening to my husband (who feels powerless) endlessly worry while keeping my worries to myself.   It got really dark for about a week and I stopped doing anything but making things move forward so my son had hope.  Since our other son was in the middle of his own exhausting competition and needed support as well - oh my gosh I felt like a ping-pong ball.  He tried to collapse here for Thanksgiving but couldn't as he had to do grad school applications, due days after his robotic competiton - so I spent that weekend being his muse and editor for the dozens of essays and videos he had to pop off so quickly.

Things are looking up, we have found the right specialist.  The therapies are slowly working - I am doing them with the kid daily to get them done and extend his brain time with them (they work at minimizing headaches in dyslexics so good for me too).  He and I stayed back from the family Christmas vacation because he isn't allowed to fly.  So we are alone here since Christmas in 'brain bootcamp' as he calls it.  He isn't liking the low-inflammation diet.  His brother has been a saint - offering immediately after his apps were done to tutor his brother in all his AP courses to catch him up on 12 weeks of high school.  Since they both get up insanely early this time of year, they work on it between 5-7 am.  That was one of the huge issues, the kid can't really read well at the moment and is toast at the end of school day - so we couldn't hire anyone to catch him up during normal hours leading him to be despondent.  His brother has been fabulous at getting a moody 18-yr old to do everything he doesn't want to do.  It's a whole family affair, I would have to say.  We have about three weeks in the new year to catch up the entire semester so his college apps are valid and move forward.  It is so much pressure - the Canadian colleges who would have already made a decision have put his apps on hold and he is starting to get deferrals from his early admissions applications.  The elephant in the closet is that with the high stakes college environment where the slots are going early, this short term injury may change his result and that is so hard for him to swallow after four years of just doing everything right.  

Once the new year gets going, I have to manage the school.  He has taken all the tests for Q1 but they still aren't graded as the teachers are in a slow-down, impending strike action.  God, I hope they don't strike that week or I will go nutcase.  Some colleges are waiting for the results of the incomplete transcript to put his application on the evaluation track again.

So I have had to take my 'Thistle Threads' hat off daily to put on my 'Dr. Mom' and 'Dyslexic Concussion Expert' hat on instead.  I was going to launch the Stumpwork Course again next week.  I was going to do a ton of new things - lectures up - papers written - new projects up.  Even those things that are pretty much ready to go - I have put aside as I just can't add to my mental load until late January.  Sometimes your injured family needs you to help carry them across the finish line.  I hope then I can celebrate with a 12-Days of Valentines Day or something like that!

Tuesday, November 29, 2022

Katie Strachan - "Queen of Color"

Maybe many of you know that during Covid I ambushed Katie after seeing so many of her class projects and original designs on NING (and winning in some of my contests) and begged her to become a needlework teacher.  I called her "the Queen of Pale" and called Lamora Haidar of Access Commodities and told her that Katie would be one of the stars of the next generation of teachers/designers.  It has thrilled me to help answer questions about the needlework industry and give encouragement and advice to get her going so she can bring her own unique vision and color sense (absolutely outstanding color sense!!) to the field.  

You might know that Katie is doing Flosstubes on YouTube to grow an audience that crosses over from the cross-stitch field up to the COC experts.  She has been gaining quite a following with her videos that sneak in quite a bit of special knowledge and tries to stretch people in their stitching skills. One of her recent videos is just such an example with her new Christmas ornament, Theodora, using sequins from the couture industry and historical colors that are explained in detail.  Even the name has references in history.  Take a watch!  

Theodora:  2022 Holiday Ornament by Katie Strachan

She is introducing her first online class, The Elzabethan Valentine in January - but it is already sold out!!  It is a really lovely piece!!  I have been supplying lacet and the fun scallop thread for it and need to get my own butt in gear to make her more so she can run another version for her waiting list.  Sooooo exciting to see Katie be successful!

The Elizabethan Valentine by Katie Strachan


Tuesday, November 22, 2022

New Witney Catalog for Preorder!

There haven't been many new publications in the last few years of significant embroidery from the 17th century.  That drought has been broken with the Nov 2022 publication of Witney Antiques annual exhibition catalog.  Witney Antiques is a fine purveyor of 17th century embroidery and 17th-19th century samplers in the UK.  Their fall exhibition is always a mix of stunning pieces for sale and a selection of embroideries from private collections loaned.  It is a wonderful way to see things that you would not normally see.  And for those who aren't lucky enough to make it to England for the month it is up, the catalog is the next best thing.  

This year's catalog is special enough to be something you need to have on your shelf.  A stunning 70 band samplers from 1630-1730 (with most being 17th century) are portrayed over 140+ pages with new research done by owner Rebecca Scott and Isabella Rosner.  The genealogy and sometimes school information is discussed.  The catalog is soft cover but glossy and well photographed.  The style of the book is in the tradition established by The Goodhart Samplers and The Feller Collection books that are almost impossible to find now.  

Access Commodities made a special appeal to get a pallet of them here to the USA to make it easier to get a copy, as they knew it would become an instant classic.  Witney Antiques does not do online ordering, so this is an opportunity to get the book that way.  The shipment is already on its way and I am making the book available for pre-orders now.  I hope to be shipping them to you before Christmas.  

Rebecca confirmed for me (I have my copy already!) that the samplers are marked "Private Collection" if they are not for sale, and that several have sold already, but if you are interested in something you see - you just might have an opportunity to purchase the piece.  

If you love English band samplers, spot samplers, or whitework samplers - this is a must for your bookshelf and a treat for the holiday season!

Friday, November 18, 2022

Store Opening Again - Amazing Embroidery and Robots too

I will be opening the store again Tuesday, Nov 22nd - Friday, Dec 9th.  

As always, you can order in between when the store is 'closed' but I might not be here to ship immediately or I may know that I have a deadline or family events that keep me from being attentive.  Unlike many stores, I am only one person and I am also handling all the stitching for class models, instruction writing, thread packaging, kit packing, and the R&D and production of new materials.  Put on top of it working with museums on various historical research and you have a perfect storm of being pulled in many directions.  So putting the store on an Open/Close situation was a way to better control the expectations.  

When the store is open I am around and shipping is fast.  

Now what has been up?   This fall has been consumed by several research projects and trips to take the knowledge that has built up from thread manufacture, stitch identification and working on these big reproduction projects and apply it to some big questions in the field of historic embroidery.  An intermediate goal was to present my findings on Martha Edlin at Winterthur in October.  I am currently working on multiple research papers with colleagues with an end of year due date.  I am very excited about the future publications and will let everyone know when they are available.

One set regards an amazing piece of gold and silver embroidery using the needlelace, interlacing and braid stitches that I figured out and taught in courses online.  The piece is currently on display at the MET in the huge (and amazing) Tudors Exhibition.  If you are anywhere near NYC before the exhibition goes off display - PLEASE go see this piece of embroidery.  It is next to many fabulous portraits of Henry VIII and Elizabeth I.  It will take almost a book to explain what has been learned from this piece.  During the research, the object went from an unknown to a bearing cloth for christening. 

MET 2016.526 Bearing Cloth

When I am not consumed with the research and embroidering on the Four Seasons Double Casket, family has to be first.  This fall has been consumed with three main things - both boys are applying to college or grad school, the younger has had three concussions which have just made me drop things at a moments notice constantly to deal with the ramifications that haven yet ended since mid Sept, and then the older kid was in a worldwide robotics competition.

I know you will say - hey, but I thought he graduated!?  Yes, but there are a few technology foundations or  government agencies which try to jump start major technology leaps with these high prize money competitions.  These are the type of things that are constantly talked about in tech circles and end up becoming NOVA episodes.  Commercial spaceflight was the result of a massive contest by a foundation called XPrize put up about 20 years ago.  That's right - the first university or corporate collaboration which could make sub-orbital flight got big money.  Now we have Virgin Galactic, Blue Origin and SpaceX.  Ever seen those creepy robot dogs or backflipping humanoid robots?  Another result of XPrize and DARPA.  Carbon capture (XPrize), autonomous cars (DARPA), and many others have kick started new technology industries.  

Well the research that my son started freshman year ended up being entered into the Avatar XPrize competition in 2021 and became the 3rd place semi-finalist.  That won them a spot in the finals and money to go whole hog trying to develop a full system.  He was on co-op when the grad students and profs called him and told him and begged him to find as much time in 2022 to work on it.  So other than a few classes, he has spent the last year on this project.  What is it?  

The concept is a robot that is multifunctional that can go into a situation, driven by an operator that is as far away as possible (in this case in a room far from an arena), like around the world.  The operator can use the video from the robot (up to each team how to implement) to see and use some sort of control that gives them feedback (called haptics) to feel what the robot is doing.  So if the robot reaches out to grab something, you feel what it picks up.  Some teams, including my son's team, had a hand/arm system that the operator put their arms in and everything their hands did was translated one-to-one to the robot arms.  This is why it is called Avatar XPrize.  The use cases are enormous, but the easy to understand one is a disaster at a nuclear power plant where the robot goes in and the operator can actually act if there to mitigate the situation but not die instantly of radiation poisoning.  

It was a tremendous amount of work.  The results were stunning.  He ended up leading the mechanical side of the team and we all flew to LA to watch the finals live with the teams from around the world competing.  Only four teams successfully finished all the robotic tasks in the time limit and their speed and user interface were judged.  His team won the $1 Million 3rd place prize and was the highest placed US team between companies and universities!  

What was so funny was he also trained the judge/operators.  Part of the competiton was to evaluate the user interface and how good the haptics were; so the team only had 45 min to train someone given to them as the operator (a person versed in the field of robotics but completely unfamiliar with the system) and couldn't direct them but sat behind to answer a direct question if required.  Most of these trainers were stoic, but David just isn't.  His facial expressions were noted by the profession announcers and were tweeted around the world by viewers.  He said in one interview - 'if anyone thought I didn't care....'

Each round was 25 minutes but this video cuts it down to the most exciting moments - When you see the robot work with the drill - the audience went nuts.  Most operators would forget that they had two robot arms on most systems.  Of course my family was quite excited with how it all turned out - and I didn't get any embroidery done that week (but did squeeze a visit to the storage at LACMA!).

Tuesday, October 11, 2022

Winterthur Conference - Virtual Talks

For those who couldn't make it to the Winterthur conference in person, there is a virtual option and that is still open for registration until Oct 14th.  The talks in the main sessions were recorded and will be available to watch for a month for those who register for the virtual version of the conference.  At $200, it is a nice way to support the museum and see talks from your own home.

My talk on the life of Martha Edlin is one of the lectures.  Afterwards I got quite a few comments that no one expected the level of information or detail that I had uncovered.   Lynne Anderson did an amazing talk about Mexican samplers - bringing them to life with both primary sources, descriptions of the stitches in Spanish, and even books describing how to teach them!  The images were quite yummy.  Kelli Barnes gave a talk about her work on samplers worked by black girls/women in the European tradition either in Africa, the colonies, or the USA and drew upon embroidery tradition in Africa to give context.  

Kate Sekules talk about mending knocked it out of the park.  She was so engaging - starting out with the earlier than understood prehistoric use of needles to modern day co-opting of mending as an environmental movement among the younger generation by fashion houses.  It was extremely illuminating to everyone in the audience, not only about the technology of mending during war years but how we are manipulated today by mass marketing.  Everyone loved it.  We asked for her to come back and do a take on darning samplers someday.

Other traditional embroidery topics were to be had - from 17th century Boston Coats of Arms and a wonderful, wonderful talk from historian and author Marla Miller about a turn of the century embroiderer who worked a reproduction design on cloth that was spun and woven by ancestors in the 1700s.  I don't want to spill the story.  

A unique aspect of the talks this year were the inclusion of newly graduated students from the Winterthur program giving short talks about either investigation or conservation of a piece.  The conservations were fascinating - seeing how tattered pieces could be stabilized and brought back to life so they could be displayed.  Each required very cutting edge technology.  Then there was one Massachusetts embroidery which was being scientifically examined to try to understand the slips attached to it.   Laura included this one as it had a twist that had the entire audience sit up and say "hello!!" in great surprise in the middle at the conclusion of some of the analytical data.  Previously it was 'yeah yeah... silk, metal... and then - WHAT??"  There was a real story in there and not at all what we all sitting there expected which made it fun.  

Register here