Monday, January 28, 2019

Whitework Samplers Course - A Preview of Some Attractions

I am busy getting the Whitework Sampler course underway for March 1st and thought I would tell the world about one of the little extras in the class.  My courses are always full of context and places to explore if you want to know more than the stitch to do the project.  I envision the classes as what I would want if the class was offered through a university - references to keep exploring and growing as a person!

So to that end, I have been busy adding to one of three pinterest boards for the course.  Right now they are in secret mode for the public - so don't go looking for them!  You won't find them.  This board is an archive of embroidery pattern books that exploded in Europe during the Renaissance to transmit how-to and patterns to those interested.  There have been a few important studies in the last century of pattern books, one of the most extensive, Bibilographie der Modelbucher, was made by Arthur Lotz and published in 1963.  In German, this impressive text tracks the location and information about most of the surviving pattern books through their multiple printings and plagiarizing of content.   This was a great reference for researchers but hard to use as there were only a few patterns published in the book and traveling to see the volumes in rare book archives is hard.  But the advent of digital reproduction in the last decade of rare books has really taken off and it is possible to find around half of the books listed in Lotz online to view.  The Metropolitan Museum of Art has a large collection of them and had a great exhibit about a year ago and made great in roads into digitizing their vast collection for the exhibit.  But you still have to search to find them.

So I decided to make my research easier and share it with you as well.  I have collected the findable pattern books onto a very organized Pinterest board.   It is organized by the bibliographic reference in Lotz book and I have found additional copies not listed which have come to light in the last fifty years.  Currently there are 63 pattern books located on the board with over 2500 pages of patterns.  All take you back to the original materials on archive sites with full references.

Why should you care?  At its most basic - I have added 2500 patterns to the course.  I could never afford the graphic arts to add that many patterns for you to choose from for your reticella samplers.  One of the lessons will be all about how to print and resize the patterns for your use as well as how to interpret the woodblock patterns.  Steeping myself in them has made me recognize how they were drawing the stitches so I can teach you how to 'read' them as well.

Then there is the added context.  These were pattern books!  That means that there are samplers out there that used these books.  How can we match them up (yup, been doing it), are there notations in some of them that teach us about how they were using them?  yes, again some versions have the original owner using the graph paper, etc.  The frontispieces have valuable information on the working of the pieces, showing women doing the work.  And you can see the transmission of patterns across countries and times.

Through this I found that there is an important collection of patterns just here in a small library in Massachusetts - I hope to visit a particular pattern book where the user used it quite liberally to gain even more insight on the past.

If you are interested in the Whitework Sampler Course and learning more about the patterns and workings - read more info here.

Monday, January 14, 2019

Americana Week in NYC

Sotheby's Jan 20, 2019
This week every year in New York City is a group of auctions and shows that bring everyone who loves early American decorative arts to the city.  And since there is so little of American embroidery of this period - 17th century British embroidery is the items of choice for those who collect in the early American period.

This week's auctions at Sotheby's are especially rich with items.  But for me, it is bittersweet as well. A few years ago I was invited by a collector friend to come on a tour sponsored by Deerfield Museum  he was organizing that went through Chicago and Milwaukee - a hotbed of collectors of this period of needlework. Actually, he contacted me and 'told me' I was coming - I am so glad I went as it was the last time someone could meet these passionate people in the field with legendary collections.  Two of the collections we saw are up for auction and I learned two months ago that another of the collectors had just passed away.  It was so special to meet these passionate people and understand their collections and see them in the way they had loved them - instead of on a
white background.

SOTHEBY'S JAN 20, 2019
Constance Godfrey was the grandmother we all would have loved to have had!  Her custom built reproduction home was amazing and showed the love of the decorative arts she and her husband had. Constance was so gracious and loving, telling us about her pieces among a spread of cookies we munched upon.  She was particularly attracted to 17th century beaded pictures, baskets and caskets because the color was still so vibrant on them.  Her baskets aren't pictured elsewhere that I have ever seen and so it was a thrill to see each one!  Four of them are up for auction and for those who are basket lovers - you must see them.  She also had four wonderful caskets, one of which was an unknown match to two others -
one of which is in the MET and shows clues to workshop manufacture.

The Vogels gave us a wonderful lecture about their home's collection, which is particularly rich in ceramics but also decorated all throughout with 17th century British and American needlework.  A casket, mirror frame, sweet bags, and pictures rounded out the stunning effect.  A portion of their collection is also up for auction.  I understand they are still in good health!

SOTHEBY'S JAN 20, 2019
Finally, while his collection was the most stunning and it is not up for auction, I must mention the passing of John Bryan as his life's work touches everyone of us through needlework and other areas.  John owned Crab Tree Farm, a gentleman's farm on the shores of Lake Michigan complete with a sprawling English manor inspired home with thematic follies dotting the landscape (the Tutor one was MAGIC!).  While John is well known for the houses on the site where he has preserved and restored the biggest collection of Gustov Stickley furniture and Arts and Crafts decorative arts, he is also known for his extensive collection of 17th century British embroidery.  John maintained a contemporary furniture workshop on site and was a patron of the arts in an extraordinary way.

John's business career was to build Sara Lee into the multinational conglomerate it is today.  In his
retirement, he turned his considerable business talents to other passions such as the building of Millennium Park in Chicago, raising almost half of the money to build it because of his core belief in public spaces.  In one of his gardens, he had the scaled down prototype of the 'silver bean' sculpture which was fun to walk around.  John was also instrumental in many civil rights movements in the Chicago area, joining with the black community to demand changes in access to many areas of white privilege.

Sotheby's Jan 19, 2019
In the needlework field, his influence will be felt for decades to come and you may not know of this man who begat things you will enjoy.  Not only sharing his pieces with me for research but commission of a book in process right now on 17th century needlework.  His love for the Art Institute of Chicago and board position had him recruit one of our favorite curators, Melinda Watt, from the MET to become an endowed textile curator at the Art Institute recently.   Melinda, recently ensconced was given the charge to reopen the textile department (very rich with 17th century textiles) to the public through exhibitions and access and over the next decade this will be a wonderful thing as part of John's legacy.

When we are in love with objects we need to also appreciate the people who become guardians of them as well as those who research and teach as they are all partners in keeping the historical legacies alive for the future.  I feel honored to have met so many of these guardians who shared with me their passions.

The Collection of Anne and Frederick Vogel III - Sotheby's Jan 19th, 2019
Lots:  802, 815, 831, 832, 833, 836, 858, 860, 885, 905, 923, 986, 994, 1055, 1056, 1058, 1065, 1066, 1069, 1091

Important Americana - Sotheby's Jan 20, 2019
Lots: 1401-1409

Friday, January 11, 2019

New Online Classes at Thistle Threads

While the blog has been doing giveaways and robot reports, I announced two new online classes to start during this winter.  The first is the Stuart Silk Purl Flower course - outlined today.

This is a sweet little piece about the size of a postcard and it explores how to use silk wrapped purls to get a variety of texture in your work.

The course is 3-months long and costs $210 for USA students.  During the three months, there will be extras such as the recording of the talk I gave at Winterthur on how these unique threads were made and the 17th century infrastructure around them.  Additionally historic pictures of silk wrapped purl in pieces will be shown and discussed and a presentation about all the tips and tricks to using them effectively.  There is also a small box of silk wrapped purls of other sizes for playing with.

The course starts on February 1st and is a great way to start the new year with a short and fun project and tons of learning!  It is also a good introductory project into how I teach online for those who have been tempted before by larger and long offerings.

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

12 Days After Christmas - Day 12

Today's giveaway is a set of three fibers from Rainbow Gallery.    The rules of engagement are:

1) Send me a email at

2) Put FLAIR in the subject line (so I can sort my entries).

3) Put your NAME and MAILING ADDRESS in the body of the message

4) Get the email to me by midnight EST of January 10th to be considered!

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

12 Days After Christmas - Day 11

Today's giveaway is a set of Colorwash painted Japanese silks  The rules of engagement are:

1) Send me a email at

2) Put COLORWASH in the subject line (so I can sort my entries).

3) Put your NAME and MAILING ADDRESS in the body of the message

4) Get the email to me by midnight EST of January 9th to be considered!

Monday, January 7, 2019

12 Days After Christmas - Day 10

Today's giveaway is a 2019 calendar.  The rules of engagement are:

1) Send me a email at

2) Put CALENDAR in the subject line (so I can sort my entries).

3) Put your NAME and MAILING ADDRESS in the body of the message

4) Get the email to me by midnight EST of January 8th to be considered!

Sunday, January 6, 2019

12 Days After Christmas - Day 9

Today's giveaway is19 skeins of cream needlepoint silk.  The rules of engagement are:

1) Send me a email at

2) Put CREAM NEEDLEPOINT in the subject line (so I can sort my entries).

3) Put your NAME and MAILING ADDRESS in the body of the message

4) Get the email to me by midnight EST of January 7th to be considered!