Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Thank You - Success!

A big thank you for everyone who bought a beaded basket Needlework Nibble this year.  The Holburne Museum has just announced that their fund raising was successful and they have completed the acquisition of the beaded basket below.  It will now stay on display for the public.  I am very proud to let you know that the public funds were completed by the donation from Thistle Threads on your behalf in time to claim a grant challenge.

It will be wonderful to go visit this piece at some point in Bath, England.  I hope that many of you will as well.   I really appreciate the support of the Needlework Nibbles, small projects for fun, as often I am able to do some good in the museum world with them.  This leads to good feelings, museum tours, access to objects for more people and the like.  All good things!

Watch for more Needlework Nibbles in the next few months.  There are a bunch of them under development, some for great causes as well.   If you are interested in one of the beaded basket nibbles, let me know (  I am taking a waiting list and once I get to a few more people I can have some more rims made.


Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Flemish Cabinet

For those in the Cabinet of Curiosities course, you will have (or will get) a lesson on Flemish Cabinet and how they relate to English embroidered caskets.  We view over a dozen of them in the lesson.  Well, another one has come to my attention and was sold here in Boston in 2003.  Unfortunately there aren't any close pictures of the piece, but it is clear that the embroidery is of the same professional type as most of the others, the the design style being replicated as well.  The height of the piece is 17 inches with a width of 18.25 inches.  It sold for just under $10,000 in 2003.

These ebony cabinets were a unique product mass produced to be sold to middle class families in England and France during the first quarter of the 17th century.  Very few were retained in the Low Countries as this was an export item made for foreign distributors.  It is the mirrored space (behind a door in this piece) that was replicated in many of our English caskets and represented education and learning to the purchaser.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Boutiques Anciennes De Paris

Quite a few people asked what book I had found Declercq Passementiers in.  Well, it took me a whole week (note that I still don't quite know where everything is in my new house!).  The book has been found and is called:  Boutiques Anciennes De Paris by Sybil Canac and Bruno Cabanis.  The book is written both in English and French

It covers fifty boutiques in Paris that retain their original decoration and family tradition.  These boutiques range from the world famous Laduree (Unbelievably delicately flavored macaroons) to crammed shops selling ribbons (Ultramod) and places that specialize in Napolean-era metal soldiers.  Au Ver a Soie is not normally open to the public, but it would certainly have fit into this category with its old-styled original storefront and fourth generation family running the silk thread maker.  As Marc Boucher, who holds up the tradition of high quality silk with his sister Nathalie, said when I showed him this book - these are the 'businesses ancient'.  

I loved the nineteenth century interiors, large gold letters on the outside and the dark wood interiors.  A feature retained by many is the little booth in the back where a older woman sits and takes your slip so she can take and enter the payment into a ledger.  There are just some systems that still stay the same!  Our butcher a few doors down retained this and I just loved going in and watching them pick me some ham, wrap it up and give it to this lady for me to finish the transaction with.  So old school!

The place I found this book, which features in the volume, is also not to be missed if you visit Paris.  It is an institution there - an ACTUAL Cabinet of Curiosities - Deyrolle.  Not far over the river from the Louvre, it is an easy and lovely walk from the main tourist attractions and across the street from one of the best known restaurants by Joel Robuchon ($$$$) (It was a lunch I will always remember).  

Deyrolle is essentially a shop for taxidermy and the natural sciences.  Established in 1831, the first floor has 'le Prince Jardinier', a lovely garden shop, but it is the upper floor which is ten times as big that stuns.  It is hard to describe Deyrolle, it has to be experienced.  It is the only place I have ever been that accurately looks like the wunderkammers and cabinet of curiosities engravings of the Renaissance.  You would think it would be like a natural history museum - yet it is singularly not.  It is intimate and that is the only way I can describe it.  There are stuffed birds, animals and displays of shells and insects everywhere in delicately painted nineteenth century interiors and oak lined rooms.  You really feel like you are wandering the private studies of an aristocratic world explorer - someone for whom the Grand Tour was just the beginning of their adventures.  By the time you traverse the length of the place and are in the bug room, your wonder has taken over and you are opening the multitude of drawers and are amazed by the assortment of rare butterflies, pins, and other supplies needed for collectors.  I have to admit that I almost bought my mother a Christmas present in the beetle area (you have to know my mom - I really regret not getting back there to do it! I was on my way into the city that day and couldn't carry the shadow box of iridescent green bugs).  I can imagine now an absolutely fabulous embroidered casket with stumpwork animals, butterflies and bugs on the outside and a collection of said rare rocks, shells, and insects on the inside in the drawers - a true Cabinet of Curiosities.  I may just follow through on that as I now know where to get everything.  

To say that this shop is beloved by Parisians is an understatement.  While I was there, a grandmother and granddaughter (about 10 yrs old) were searching in the cabinet of small birds for a gift for the girl.  She picked out a small and delicate yellow feathered bird with a huge smile on her face and took it to be purchased.  I so wanted to ask them the story behind this purchase.  Perhaps a remembrance of a beloved pet or maybe the act of a knowing grandmother, feeding the interest of a biologist in training.  But the obvious careful selection and delight on the child's face made me want to bring home something.  What shocks you is finding out that this institution was ravaged by fire in 2008.  The current owner, the Prince Louis-Edouard de Broglie, was inundated by gifts from famous families, royal houses, and ordinary collectors who had loved this shop over the century.  He was able to repopulate the animals (many now endangered and not replaceable) by these gifts.  And yes, the majority of these pieces are for sale.  Philip Stark had purchased the only polar bear days before the fire,  inadvertently saving it from destruction.  I know there are some who would be repulsed by the mounted animals - but I have to say it was in such a respectful and tasteful manner that you had to be in awe of their majesty.

I highly recommend it if you go to Paris.  I will be back.


Sunday, October 20, 2013

Beautiful Auction Items

There are a few wonderful 17th century pieces on auction next week at Sotheby's.  Fortunately I will be in NYC before they go on the block and plan to go see these pieces up close.  The first of interest is a beaded mirror shaped like the one in my store.  This mirror, edged in tortoise shell shows a series of allegories in the four corners, we see Faith, Hope, Plenty and Peace. One of the amazing things is that this mirror is an exact copy of a piece that is currently in private collection, which I was privileged to see only a few weeks ago.  This further gives evidence on how pieces were being made/taught in groups.  I am looking forward to seeing it in person next week and comparing the photos I have of the other piece.

The other piece on sale that is really interesting is a very small piece of needlelace.  The textures that are achieved by changing the stitches give the definition between the shapes so that the picture can be read.  The size says it is about 3" x 5" which seems very small compared to the similar works in the V&A and Feller collection.  Can't wait to see.


Thursday, October 10, 2013

Declereq Passementiers - My Favorite Paris Discovery

While in Paris this summer, I discovered that I loved the stores that still retained their 19th century interiors.  The old world look was evident in many of the ancient establishments - from my favorite cheese shop to Laudree (if you ever have a chance to eat their macaroons - do it).  I managed to find a wonderful book (in English) that had these jewel box stores listed by arrondissement and quickly set out to visit as many of the interesting ones as I could.

One that stood out was Declercq Passementiers!  They are on their 6th generation of this illustrious family of hand made silk trims.  Since the 1850s they have been making silk gimps, striped silk gimps, silk rococos, silk braids, silk wrapped purls and silk wrapped parchments... and then turning them into mind blowing tassels with old looms and needlewomen.

One of the great things about their English website is the glossary of terms.  The term in French is shown in drawings.  What a great resource.

The storefront, located just off the subway stop Etienne Marcel at 15 rue Etienne Marcel, 75001 Paris is
opened by ringing the doorbell.  Just inside are the displays of almost a hundred silk tassels that are over 12 inches long (that doesn't include the rope!) and are worth around 1000-2000 euros each.  It is all you can do not to pet them like a beloved dog.

The showroom doesn't stop there, it gets much better.  As you move towards the middle, you note the seating area that is trimmed, as you might believe, with their own silk gimp trims.  Beautiful.  But what is more exciting is the small TV that is running videos showing the threads, trims, and tassels being made!  I must have watched them for over fifteen minutes trying to remember all the details of the craftsmanship.

Beyond this, half the store is actually a museum of the best trims, tassels and ornaments from the time of Napoleon to today.  There are mind blowing threads in these pieces as well as techniques that are straight out of the 17th century embroidery we all love.  It is clear that the trim makers of the 17th century were very close to the professional embroiderers, the boundaries are so transparent between them.  While I was in Paris, I had been working on many threads with the craftspeople in Europe that we are using for the Part II Stumpwork class and so I recognized so many techniques that we were replicating.   One of them, striped silk gimp, is used frequently on the larger gimps of the trim maker.  If you look at the woven and braided trim on the left, you can see a dark/light pink striped gimp in the trim.  This, in smaller scale, was used all over the grottos in the stumpwork.

Another item that is used is silk wrapped parchment to make little floral elements that can be stitched onto pieces or stacked on small tassels to make little elements that go onto larger tassels.  They make these striped as well!  And I haven't even started to talk about the hand embroidery on the heads which you can see below in some close up pictures.  One picture is of the twisted cord for the hanger.  It is made up of multiple gimps, some of which are also striped.  I see these types of details on stumpwork pieces and so it excites me to see these types of amazing threads being made for this artisan business.  While I developed a great raport with the owners that day and explored the possibility that they would make items for our work, it was interesting to find out that they specialize in making these threads in short lengths, long enough for their pieces but not long enough to be called production.  The video showed the gimps being made in three to five yard lengths.  This was perfect for their business as the customer can have many choices of color combinations for their decor.  Each item is truly custom handmade!  But it was like looking into the past.

I had to have some of these.  I won't tell you what I spent, but I should frame the tassel! (shhh - my husband might be reading).  The details are of one that I purchased.

One amazing thing is that they bring their craftspeople into the store a few times a year (write or call to find out when!) to work in front of the public.  The embroiderers will allow you to sit with them and watch.  It has become pretty popular and so they produce a set of tassel kits called "Grand-Clef a monter soi-meme".  They come in four colors and the kit is filled with elements that are already partially made.  The kits were for visitors to use while they sat and watched but can also be purchased for making at home.  So if you go inside, be sure to ask about the kit.  It is about 30-40 euros and is a great souvenir of the store and will make you feel better about ringing the bell to enjoy the place!
Go and enjoy and tell them that I said Hi.  Wonderful people keeping a craft alive!


Monday, October 7, 2013

Niche markets sometimes aren't so Niche

Girls Will Be T-Shirts 
I love stories like this - someone who says 'why isn't there a product like this for this need?' and actually takes it upon themselves to fill it.  We see so many examples today that frustrate us with these over-sexed media driven conglomerates trying to convince us that every child is a video gammer or a post-Hannah Montana Miley Cyrus-wanna-be.

So if you have girls or girl grandchildren, I am sure you have been shocked and perplexed with how to dress them if you have visited the mall.  The clothes available up to age eight is in shocking pink and purple and after that - it just needs to double the amount of fabric to be decent!  So here is a set of three siblings who had girls and decided that they were done shopping in the boys aisle for their girls.  They started a company, Girls Will Be, to market T-Shirts that we might have found thirty years ago - nothing mid-drift, no cap sleeves, no pink.  Just a fun shirt that doesn't look like it came out of your brother's hand-me-downs.  DUH.

And they can't keep them on the shelf!  What a surprise.  :-) I love it.  Sometimes you have to ignore the status-quo that is being shoved at us.

I get that response every time I tell people I have a business teaching 17th century embroidery to people over the internet.  They just shake their heads and suspect I have a handful and must be crazy and loosing money.  When I tell them the hundreds and hundreds who do - they are shocked.  There is much more interest in textiles and handcrafts than most people realize!  Then I tell them that I do things like X-Ray embroidered caskets.  Then they are hooked and want to know everything.

Just a normal Sunday without video games in my kitchen
That brings me to video games.  I run into plenty of people who lament about them.  I do too.  Rotting the brains of our youth.  But if you provide an exciting alternative for kids, they will beat a path to your door!  That came true to me this week through a couple of experiences.

My robot team was targeted by a kid who wanted on it - BAD.  He had been asking for a month and so I finally said - geez this kid is serious.  He showed up here Friday, Saturday and Sunday to 'try out' by working with each of the guys on the team.  He made the cut and will be a terrific asset to us.  So great to see teens putting aside the games and beg to help to invent water treatment systems (our project this year).  As I say to people, if you give them something 'real' to work on - you will have to fend the kids off!

On Friday, my new robot team of 8-yr olds was working.  It was hilarious as they work afterschool until 6 and then are supposed to go home while the big guys (13-14 yr olds) start their work and go until 10.  It hasn't worked out that way.  The parents come and end up in big negotiations - the kids beg and beg to stay and keep going.  Our next door neighbor came to get her kid and he stood on the porch making every deal he could think of to stay and watch the big guys run their 'bots.  The big guys are now showing up (and asking to!) on Saturday AND Sunday as well.  Think about that - these kids all have sports on the weekend too.  They are effectively giving up all their free time to hang out here working on programming, robot building and natural disaster solutions.  Of course it makes it pretty hard for me to answer the class emails!

I hosted a play date on Thursday for all the boys in the 'hood.  We hadn't had anyone over because of
all the construction.  One little guy at the end of the gathering came up to me and asked 'are you famous?'  I asked why he would think that.  He said 'because you know all these things... robots, legos, 3-D printing'.  I thought that was so funny.  Kids at that age will think you are a hero if you treat them like they have half a brain.  I am having a feeling that my newly finished house might be the boy magnet of the neighborhood.  And that is ok, because there aren't any video games here.  :-)

Embroidery + Robots = Totally Cool Day
So if you lament about a kid in your life being hooked on them - take them to the local electronics store and buy a kit to build a light up thingy.  Learn to solder with them.  You will be surprised how engrossed they will get.  Or give them an old phone, remote control or broken printer and a screwdriver.  That's the best fun around.

I went to Maker Faire in New York two weeks ago (my birthday present).  It was amazing - 650 booths of people doing knitting, embroidery, crafts, electronics, 3-d printing, cardboard toys, robots, you name it!  Everything creative you could think of, especially with a bit of a tech bent.

There were 50,000 visitors.    

That's not Niche.  We embroiderers are part of a movement.  A movement beyond what the corporations are telling us is mainstream.  It's a movement to take back youth for kids and creativity for ourselves!  I love the poster for Maker Faire - note how Textiles, Sewing, Felting, Embroidery, and Fibre arts are right there mixed with NASA, Rockets, Robots, and Lasers.  Very cool and very hip.  Did you know you were so hip?

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Miss Nibbles Looks for the Secret Drawer

My children have a pet and when we moved, she moved into my office as they no longer shared a room.  Miss Nibbles is now very accustomed to my working in there - especially at funny hours and she enjoys getting treats.

I am trying to train her to help me out - everyone needs a little helper who doesn't get tired running on a wheel!  Here she is trying to find the secret drawers (needs a new place for stash).  I was trying to have her help me write the last lesson to the Cabinet of Curiosities Part I course, but she much preferred the little drawers instead.  Don't we all!

I certainly needed the help!  The entire course ended up being over 1,735 pages long!  Yes that is a lot of motifs, instructions, historic photos and history to write and produce.  It has been fun and really eye opening as well.  I am looking forward to the next class - Part II and getting it ready to go.

For those who are interested in Part I, I had a demand for additional spots and so I opened up 20 more.  So if you missed the fun and regret it - here is a chance to get in on the current encore running.  I have also opened up the Stumpwork course (Part II) for registration today.