Monday, September 29, 2014

Stumpwork Panel with Close Photos

This site has a nice piece that has been conserved (note the long threads tied down north-south).  But there are lots of close pictures.  Click on a picture, then hit the little four arrows in the bottom right and you will see the picture up close and can tell what threads and stitches were used.


Sunday, September 28, 2014

Where have you been?

I know some of you have been wondering where the blog went all summer!  Long Story - and humorous too in a 'glad that's not me kinda way'.

Well, my husband changed his job a little over a year ago and is able to take time off on his own schedule - working for himself.  Previously he was a high-tech start up guy and that meant a few short, high intensity vacations scattered around (this man doesn't vacate - he adventures).  But after 20 years of the fast life at work, he was a bit burnt out and needed to slow the work pace for a bit.  BUT he can't seem to slow the adventure pace - he just has time for it now!

So last year and this one he poured his heart into planning a few very long adventures abroad (hard to say no as he points out I can mostly work anywhere).  Before kids, when we had time we did a lot of backpacking around Europe - which is how I started all this embroidery research.  We never stopped - not even for infants (did you know German grocery stores don't sell diapers?).  But he hasn't quite learned that there are other ways to travel (elevators in hotels?  It means you are spending too much on a room).  Wife can't drive a stick?  Well it is too expensive to get an automatic - she will learn on the autobahn in a 20 km traffic jam.  I did put my foot down years ago and refused to carry the luggage on my back anymore.  But he won the battle on number of bags (as a family of four we still only have two).  I won the right not to wash my underwear in the sink and dry wet socks on my feet at night.  He has the same sweater in 24 years of vacation photos (Note to self - burn that thing!)

We go to amazing places.  Don't get me wrong - I love seeing the world.  But kinda wish the travel wasn't so much on the 'edge' because when you travel on the edge, things happen.  I never know what to say when I return looking ragged and people gush about the places and how refreshed we must be. I am dumbstruck about what to say - I just want to crawl into bed for a week.  Friends who really know us, line up to hear the 'latest stories' and laugh like crazy over a glass of wine.  My father usually picks himself off the floor laughing and reiterates his original statement after our 1-month 12-country honeymoon -"If I had known, you wouldn't have taken my daughter!" (Of course they have joined us twice now - just to see if my outlandish stories were true.  They were - but my husband did upgrade the level of hotel.  There were views, but no elevators to my dad's chagrin).  When we ask his sister to go somewhere with us - her standard refrain is "no rats".

We have been in police stations in the best of countries.  I have tried out every socialist health care system and really, really like them.    There may be a warrant for me in Prague but no one checked this year.  I know a few ways to get pharmaceuticals when lost (but this year the 'sew it into the stuffed flamingo' and fed-ex it didn't work).  Look both ways when crossing an active runway.  I always leave a selection of things I might need on my kitchen table -- just in case a family member needs to ship them to me.  I have learned that you can jump on a moving train... and boat.  Always buy the extra car insurance.
22 caskets and untold mirrors and stumpwork in
six days.  That was a good yield!  Some 6000
up-close research photos
And absolutely wear a money belt with your passports.  My son has a stance with his hands jammed in his pockets on travel to prevent loss - or monkeys from getting their hands in.  And once after hearing about 15 min of 'don'ts' before crossing into Northern Africa during the Arab Spring, the kid smartly asked - 'Why the heck are you bringing us here then!?'

So what could happen on a nine-country tour?  25 cities in 29 days?  Where at one point the four members of the family would be in three countries as diverse as Iceland, England and Turkey - only meeting up in Sweden for the first time since leaving the USA?  The 14-yr old had eight airplane legs for just his part alone?  No - nothing could go wrong?  When this year there are TWO Excel spreadsheets to keep the itineraries straight - worry.  And the hubby wonders why I was dreading this trip... Of course, if you read the last blog - you realize that nothing could faze him anymore.  You are getting the gist... the last 25 years of travel has been one long audition video for Amazing Race.

So the blog went dark because after the Chevy Chase around England/Scotland to see caskets and
THE FISH.  And we didn't even eat it.
stumpwork - I had a few days at a friend's place on the coast of the Baltic.  While there, my son and his friend were fishing.  They caught a great big fish and put it in a bucket.  Brought the bucket up the cliff to where I was 'relaxing' (i.e. working for the first time in days).  They stayed about 12 feet from me and showed me the big fish.  Nice fish.  Then fish went back in the bucket, where upon it thrashed and sprayed the entire deck with salty sea water.

Yes.  No more computer.  At this point insert Benny Hill ditty with Tricia drying computer with hairdryer, racing their boat back to Stockholm, begging Apple store to help her (no go - seems you need three weeks to get a
If you see this part of your
laptop - not good.
Genius bar slot), computer corroded, no english keyboard, many calls to USA, Apple store in Berlin, finally hard drive is corroded too.  Will have to wait until back in USA for back up drive.  No ability to work for 21 days.  Have to catch up when get back - and add 21 days of work to pile.  You can imagine the dumb founded look on Genius's here in Boston when I handed them the computer and said a fish did it.  (It was a whopper of a tale!)

This would be pretty bad if it wasn't the culmination of nine days of really, really bad travel juju.  You see my husband and friend had JUST landed the boat after trekking back to the airport to retrieve my bag that had been MIA for four days.  And that was the SECOND time in seven days.  I now had so many toothbrushes and deodorants to carry around.  And a full set of clothes that I had bought in only two hours at 4x what they cost in the USA.  And if that wasn't bad enough there was when we landed at the wrong airport.  The lightning that hit the high speed train.  The Mumbai train ride (just don't ask!) the only thing to know is that now my son and I have claustrophobia and couldn't ride a subway the rest of the entire month.  And when British Air decided to cancel the 14-yr old's flight and not reseat him - gave all the empty seats to adults even though we had paid them to accompany the child.
Despondent teen to dad after spending a week in the basement
storage areas of museums watching mother and friend
go ga-ga over "dirty old embroidery".
Poor substitute for Turkish resort and Scandinavian girls
He never made it to Turkey.  The details are gory and I have to thank my travel companion that week (a stitching friend) who had signed up for seeing lovely caskets with me - not to sleeping in a room with a very disappointed teen (missing a gift from his Swedish 'family' to go to a resort with them).  And at the end - when I was good and exhausted - we still had a technical conference to attend in Vienna for a week.  The husband dropped the older kid and I at a random train station in rural Austria and made an autobahn beeline for Munich airport.  We found our way to the conference.   The kid was giving the poster and workshop and I was the chaperone.  Three of the robot kids were there in this adult world.  I had to teach them how to negotiate an adult conference, network, the art of the reception, etc.  They did spectacular but it was exhausting.  Of course I would have to get food
Conference kids - they looked
good, were professional, and made
waves with their opinions on education.  

Then there was the volcano.  It decided to erupt as we landed in Iceland.  Why not?  Every time an Iceland volcano erupts I am flying.  Yes - this is the third time for me.

So I got home.  Almost no blog for eight weeks.  I still have 396 emails to process.

Husband is already trying to plan crazy international ski thing for February (bet the blog will go dark then too).  I didn't mention that my brother got married five days after we landed.  So we had to fly to that.  At least as we were standing forty people back in the cheep car rental line (sooo jet lagged) and the boys were lambasting their dad for not using his Hertz gold membership - he finally got it that we have had it and we dragged our bags across the street to Hertz.

Maybe there is hope for him.  Yes, he was wearing the trusty travel sweater.  I swear that thing is a bad luck charm!

I am going to burn it.


P.S.  He has NO input in my tours.  :-)  'Nuff said!

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Thank You to the Fellers from the Lovers of Needlework Community!

I want to thank the Micheal and Elizabeth Feller from the bottom of my heart.  Not only did they generously allow their amazing and very important collection of 17th century embroidery to be photographed and published but to be exhibited as well.  And then yesterday came the amazing news that the 61 pieces they have loaned to be on display at the Ashmolean will stay forever.

The Fellers have given an enormous legacy to the public by donating these pieces to the Ashmolean in honor of their departing Director, Professor Christopher Brown.  You can read more about the legacy on Needleprint.

In a time frame where we are finding that textile collections are being moved off site at museums and becoming ever so much harder to see, this is amazing news.  The potential here for academic work and new knowledge is tremendous.

I had the good fortune of meeting the man who will be taking the helm at the Ashmolean this summer, a wonderful gentleman who was in charge of a stupendous textile collection at the Holburne Museum in Bath.  He was the driving force behind the acquisition of the beaded basket which we held a contest to help.  He has a very special place in his heart for 17th century embroidery and was terribly excited by the exhibit that the Fellers had enabled at his new employer.  So I know that this gift, honoring someone who had the vision to mount a tremendous exhibition will be vastly appreciated and used by the new guard to educate the public on the wonders of 17th century embroidery.

I feel like I need to get an apartment for a month in Oxford now!!!  Is the Ashmolean the new V&A for us textile lovers?

Now how about a novel thought - write a thank you note to Micheal and Elizabeth Feller C/O The Director of Ashmolean Museum, Beaumont St., Oxford OX1 2PH, United Kingdom.  Let the museum and the Fellers know how grateful we are for the current exhibit and the future study they have enabled!  


Friday, September 26, 2014

Article on Stumpwork

It seems that stumpwork is getting popular again!  At least that is what The Telegraph says.  I think we could have told them that - ha ha.

The article is a nice read and there are a few nice pictures to look at as well.  I really like the one of the woman embedded in the article.  A simple piece that would be lovely framed.


Monday, September 22, 2014


So this seems off topic doesn't it?  Well, some may realize that my last name is Nguyen; my husband is Vietnamese.  In America, every family has stories of immigration (either in their family or for the indigenous population the effects of).   Ours does too, and it is very close to home.

My father-in-law was one of the South Vietnamese employees of the American Embassy in his last job in Vietnam.  He also had many other 'black marks' against him which made the fall of Saigon particularly dangerous for him.   He had been a Catholic monk, he was well educated, and had been an officer in the South Vietnamese Army.  The war was divided along rural/urban lines and religious as well; something many don't know.

Air Boss on the USS Midway that day.  My sons sat in
these seat on a recent visit - a special perk from a man who
had been there that day and gave my husband and us a
special tour, nicer than his first visit there on April 29, 1975.
On April 29th, 1975 his boss turned to him and said - go get your family, you have 30 minutes to get to Tan Son Nhut airport; which was being shelled and was littered with burning airplanes.   That started a months long ordeal by my husband at 10 years old to get to the USA to save their lives.  You can't imagine what the details are, there is no space here for them except one to give you the flavor.  At one point he had to climb down a rope net off the side of the USS Midway (carrier) and jump into a small boat in rough seas to transport to a cargo boat and climb up that rope to get into the hold.  Terrifying.  We visited the Midway a year ago with our kids.  He stopped dead in the hanger and exclaimed "I slept on bubble wrap here".

The Nguyen family is full of GRIT.  The things they went through that day were harrowing.  But those were only just the start.  What was sad was not only were they leaving their country but the life they had built from nothing.  Through grit they had come from poverty (my FIL was a monk because his family couldn't afford him and gave him to the monastery at 7).  The day my husband left Vietnam, he was going to the top private school in the nation and his 'life was set'.  He had attended seven schools in three years to claw his way there.  They started over in refuge camps with nothing.  If you speak to my husband, you would never know that English is his third language as there is no accent.  He worked his way to MIT and has started multiple high-tech companies.  At this point, risk is something that comes natural.  It wasn't just that the months were hard - once they got here to the USA, they had nothing.  This is a particular period that they just don't discuss - the years of hardship.

It is no surprise that he married me, a dyslexic girl whose high school had a betting pool of how many weeks it would take me to flunk out of MIT.  I was told once by a professor that if I thought I was going to grad school with writing like that - I was sorry mistaken.  I got mad and got to work (I still am an awful writer, but not as bad!).  Both of us tend to set our jaws and 'get it done'.  We are comfortable with failure and the need to try 99 times to figure something out.

See it.  You think you
know the story of
April 29, 1975, but
there is so much more
This week a movie made by Rory Kennedy (Bobby's youngest daughter) for PBS's American Experience opened in select cities around the USA.  It will play on PBS in April as well.  Watch the trailer.  The movie focuses on the 24-hours of the last day and the stories of how the South Vietnamese left.  We were excited for ourselves and our extended family with our 1st generation children who now live in privilege.  There is nothing like a PBS documentary to explain to kids in the visual terms they understand.  We don't talk much about the past but it figures into every way we run our lives -- which is 100% different than their peers.  Hard work gets results is the mantra around here.  We learn from every failure and it makes us stronger.  Something needed when all the children have dyslexia.  There isn't any Wii or Playstation around here I can tell you.  Grit is what is valued and taught.

We were invited by Rory Kennedy to the opening and were able to see it as a group last night.  The people seated around our group of Vietnamese adults and 'halfee' kids were often surprised as my husband or his sister would loudly blurt things out during the film.  "The yellow flares!  I remember that!! They were everywhere".  Or "We stayed in the trench that night while the bombs hit the airport".  But the other movie goers didn't seem to mind.  I think they realized that two people who lived though this as kids were piecing together their shattered memories into a coherent timeline for the first time in their lives.  We had made sure to drive in one big SUV - the conversations were priceless on the way home.  The kids all had big eyes and lots of questions.

Unloading onto the USS Midway - less than
3000 made it to the ship, my husband included.  I am now the
family keeper of half the items in the one bag they had. A few
family relics of their life left behind.  One is a christening
blanket - my children were christened in it.
Why everyone reading this should watch the movie is because it is the story of how failed planning delayed the evacuation in the face of overwhelming evidence. How all of the South Vietnamese who got out did so because the lower level staff at the Embassy and State Department violated orders and the law and ran a series of illegal 'black ops' to smuggle out over 100,000 Vietnamese in danger.  This is a story that no one really talks about and made us cry.  The State Department man who knew the dictate to leave the Vietnamese behind was wrong and flew on the last Pan Am flight into Saigon posing as a French man and set up a ops in an apartment and smuggled thousands onto cargo ships leaving - the stunned Air Force in the Philippines receiving them hourly not knowing how they got on. The Army captains who hid the families of the South Vietnamese Army officers ('dead men walking' they called them) in their trucks and drove them onto the airbase and put them direct on planes before the airport was shelled - screaming at them to abandon their post and go with their families - knowing that all was lost and that the Americans were going to abandon the country in hours.  And the marines who would put 1 American and 40 Vietnamese into those helicopters -- knowing that when the last American got on - there would be no helicopters.  These people did what they knew was morally right and accepted that it would likely mean the end of their careers.

We were stunned.  My husband blurted out at one point - "we landed at 3 am on the Midway, I asked my dad what time it was when we tumbled out".  We realized that he was on one of the last runs of helicopters.  The operation ended at 4 am.  420 South Vietnamese were left on the embassy by Presidential order.  Last night he marveled that if it wasn't for these men, he would likely be an internet savvy farmer in the hinterlands of Vietnam right now (if he was lucky).

Rory Kennedy's point is obviously that when we in the West go into a country and people work with the American and Coalition Forces to achieve our mission - we can't abandon them.  It is morally wrong.  That was what everyone leaving the movie was talking about.  The modern parallels are clear.  Obviously we agree.

I get very angry all the time to watch people here rail against immigrants while sitting on their butts letting their kids drool in front of video games and expecting that they are entitled to all America offers.  'Job creators' is their favorite phrase usually contrasted with 'immigrant welfare'.  That little terrified boy who almost didn't make it on that helicopter has created four companies and hundreds of jobs - an entire industry in Boston in Speech.  Most of you have a phone with his technology on it.  And he isn't comfortable with laurels, each time he took a month off and then was back to work on the next company idea.  When he is working on a new company (as he is now), I step up my work into overdrive and support the family so he can create something new.  The Casket and Stumpwork course were designed for this purpose.  You are funding the next big-tech thing.

My impression of refugees and immigrants - legal and illegal (if you really watch the movie - all the South Vietnamese were illegal) is quite different from the shock jocks out there.  I have watched parents work menial jobs because protectionist policies for native borns wouldn't allow their doctorates or medical training to be transferred (my MIL is a French trained surgical nurse, but spent 20 years in the USA washing surgical equipment instead) -- all the while pouring everything into their kids and demanding only the most attentive work from them so they could academically succeed.  Every time I step into a cab in Boston, I ask for the life story of the driver.  Try it.  You'll get out and shake their hand as you will just have met someone who is usually from some war torn country working multiple jobs and going to school trying to support an extended family.  Honorable men not sitting around complaining about others.  My friend teaches English to new immigrants who ride a bus two hours each way after cleaning floors in poverty to learn - she is furious as her funding is being cut while everyone yammers at how people don't learn English.  She has a 300 person waiting list - people who want to learn, but they may have to close their doors.  I listen to locals in my wealthy town complain about 'these people' coming into town and making the schools harder for their kids.  And smiling with no comment at them as they explain why their kids aren't taking honors math -- 'the teacher is a hard grader, you know'.  As if avoiding work is a ok thing.  I know she is a hard grader, because my kid is taking it.  And we are spending an hour a night tutoring him instead of doing something for ourselves.   Because that is what you do when you realize the opportunities America has to offer and you almost didn't have it.  They often don't realize because of my white face that we are 'these people'.

See the movie.  And think about donating $5 to Rory Kennedy's Indiegogo project with PBS to record the stories of all these South Vietnamese like my FIL before they die.  Their stories are all similar to ours and what makes America constantly reinvent itself, be innovative, and vibrantly alive.  

And we thank those Americans in Vietnam who followed their conscience instead of the rules from the bottom of our hearts as a family!  If it wasn't for them, I wouldn't be in the position to teach embroidery to you.  

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Marcia Doten sampler discovered

Help Add the Sampler to Museum Collection
An unusual piece of needlework was recently found in Chiltonville, Plymouth’s historic rural village. An early 19th century sampler was rediscovered, attached to the back of a WWII needlework picture from Occupied Japan, a souvenir brought home by a Plymouth serviceman in 1946. The sampler was embroidered in silk on a linen ground by Marcia Doten of Chiltonville, sometime in the early 1820s. It features an unfinished design of a large basket of flowers, with some of the original pencil drawing visible in the unworked area. The Antiquarian Society hopes to acquire and conserve this important local sampler.

Your contribution to our Needlework Conservation Fund will help us acquire and conserve the Doten sampler. All donations will be used for the care and conservation of the Antiquarian Society’s collection of historic needlework, which includes 45 girlhood samplers. For more information, email or call 508-746-0012.
Any donation great or small is greatly appreciated.  Link for contributing is below.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Soon Out of Print - Needleprint Book

Needleprint only has 20 Copies of The Goodhart Samplers left for sale - so if you have ever throughout of buying it, now might be a good time to grab a copy.

The book is full of over a hundred band and spot samplers up close and in their entirety.  Because of the number, you can really start to see the similarities between groups of them.  A perfect start to some research on teachers in England.

The samplers are all in the collection of Montacute House, a place I would like to visit to see them!

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Amazing Embroidered Feat

For those of you who used to go to Sampler Gathering in Plymouth, you remember Elizabeth Creeden and her lovely shop.  Elizabeth also teaches, lectures, designs and does custom pieces too.  Her latest for a client is an amazing feat based on Alice in Wonderland.

It is embroidered with silk on wool damask and she will be giving a talk on the piece before it is delivered in a few weeks.  It is an original artwork created by Elizabeth, inspired by May Morris's embroideries.  Elizabeth will show some of her drawings at the talk. The piece is 7 foot square, give and take a little - which just blows my mind on size!

The talk is at Hedge House
Plymouth Antiquarian Society
Plymouth, MA

September 21st, 2014 at 2:00pm

I am sure this is really a delight to behold in person as I have seen Elizabeth's work!!