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

Friday, August 19, 2022

Winterthur Needlework Conference

The Winterthur needlework conference is going to be held this year in person, but with a virtual component where virtual attendees can watch the talks that will be released a few weeks later. The subject of the conference is "The Needle's I: Stitching Identity" 

Needleworkers have always used needle and thread to tell stories of family, memory, and tradition as they stitched samplers or clothing. Join Winterthur staff, visiting scholars, designers, and artists for a series of talks, workshops, and discussions that will explore the ways stitchers past and present have employed their craft to express a sense of self.

The in-person conference will be held October 6-7 in Delaware.  If you are interested in finding out more about the conference and the talks as well as the virtual option - visit the site for details and registration

I am excited to be speaking there with a subject that was totally unexpected and exciting to me.  While looking to understand the socio-economic background of the girls who worked embroidered caskets, I stumbled on a clue that unlocked a treasure trove of documents that weren't previously known about Martha Edlin.  Martha's series of 17th century schoolgirl embroideries and casket are written about in numerous publications, but with a bare bones number of facts about her.  This discovery has allowed me to document her life to a degree I would never had thought possible.  That made a talk about her perfect for this conference - a formerly famous needleworker whose 'identity' was known but not understood. 


Thursday, May 26, 2022

Amazing Casket Finishes!

It's time to celebrate two casket finishes by the same person!  Sandy Gaponow from Canada has been working on the cabinets for more years than she would like to admit (Sandy is an original casketeer and was lucky enough to travel with me on some tours looking at them).  It has been a journey of studying originals and working hers.  She said she had the panels done for one for awhile but finished the two together to get the gluing done at once.

She has now turned her attention to a third large casket and a few original design trinket boxes as well.  I have to say that once you have done a cabinet - you are kinda hooked on them!  And the excitement that people have when they see them finished!  Congratulations Sandy - you are part of the exclusive 'two-box' club!  Seems like there should be a secret handshake.  :-)

I sometimes forget that those who aren't in the classes wonder 'does anyone finish that?'.  When you are in my courses, you get an invitation to a group sharing site called NING that allows for discussions and sharing of pictures.  So we are constantly delighted with pictures of panels in process, finished works and the finished cabinet.  I forget that no one else gets to see these delights.  Of course, it is sometimes slow progress as a double casket has 18 panels, so we drool especially over the original design ones as they are slowly leaked out to the gang - excitedly wondering what the entire thing will look like together!  

I have recently seen some tops for the Harmony with different treatments in the center and I will have to ask permission to share with the outside world.


Sandy's Harmony with Nature Casket

The inside and front of her lovely version!

The Five Senses Tent Stitch Casket by Sandy

The back of the casket

The inside - so well done with the finishing on both pieces!

Tuesday, May 24, 2022

Whitework Lecture for SNAD

I am giving a lecture on Whitework Samplers of the 17th Century for SNAD online as a webinar.  Tickets are $10 and the lecture is about an hour with questions after.  You can register on Eventbrite through the San Fransisco School of Needlework and Design.  It is June 1st at 1pm EST/10 am PST.  

If you have been thinking of taking the 17th Century English Whitework Samplers Course I offer, this is a great overview of what is taught in the course.