Friday, November 27, 2015

US Casket Tour - Day 6, Lady Lever Gallery

It was sad to leave York as the town is just so lovely.  It was my third trip there but the first time I had seen a small amount of it.  Sometimes when I am doing a working travel trip, I have so many place and appointments that there isn't any time to wander past the parking lot.  This tour was no exception as I was spending my time in the storage vs wandering.

Our Day 6 was a very long travel day.  We would start out in the North of the country and end up in Oxford by the end of the day with a stop at the Lady Lever Gallery in between.  The Lady Lever Gallery is really lovely and has a very large collection of 17th century embroidery.  There are six pieces always on display in a very dark corner of a gallery, including two outstanding pieces of stumpwork.

The 'before' picture of this gallery corner with the 17th century embroidery on display.  A typical day in the gallery
What it looks like when we are there!  And this is 'not crowded'.
We spent quite a bit of time trying to behave and rotate through that corner.  Hard to take pictures because of the low light but we managed to come up with a system.  Two iPhones in flashlight mode providing raking light and a flashlight pointed up gave enough ambient light to take photos and eliminate shadows.  So it could take a group to take pictures.

The lighting system
Our host for the day, Pauline Rushton, brought an amazing assembly of pieces for us to see in their multi-function room (which really had kiddy chairs).  The quality of the stumpwork that they have is so high that when you see each piece, you immediately know you could spend the better part of a day staring at it.  Then to see 10 just like it on a table - well - that sends you into a panic because you know you have an hour.  So the first group came in the room and the panic was palatable.  Cameras started clicking and the frenzy started.  All of a sudden, I looked at my watch and I had thought that 30 minutes had gone by with the feeling and din of shutters, but only 8 minutes had passed.  I then announced to everyone that we could all calm down and start to enjoy.  

It was total visual overload.  Three caskets, a book binding, a trinket box in purls and then heavy stumpwork.  I had two mirrors that had never been made up pulled so we could see how these were laid out on silk.  Then a very interesting piece of continental European Catholic stumpwork.  That was the surprise piece of the day and it did not disappoint.  Everyone was totally enamored with it.  Just like the piece at the Bowes, we were desperate to see the back or out of the frame to try to figure out if it was moulded over wood or hollow or what!   

Enjoying the stumpwork at the Lady Lever Gallery
We ended up leaving, exhausted from the embroidery.  A long ride to Oxford for our next hotel and meeting up with some Casketeers living in the area was next.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

UK Casket Tour, Day 5 - York Workshop

It was Sunday and so few museums are open, we decided to have a half day workshop, a lecture by
Mary Brooks and then make sure people visited the Treasurer's House (a National Trust property) to see two pieces of needlework and a beaded basket.   Many had a great time touring all the wonders of York - it is truly a beautiful town.

Our workshop in a period Guild Hall in York
The workshop was held in an ancient Guild Hall!!  I thought that was a nice touch, embroidering in a period interior.

So what was the project?  Well, it was a small bird that was my modern interpretation of a few 17th century sewing birds we had seen on the trip.  The interpretation was a peacock in lacet braids, filled with wools that allow it to be a pincushion.

Lacet Peacock for Workshop Course
Hope a few of you might like the Peacock, because it will be a new Online Course after the New Year!


Sunday, November 22, 2015

Driving to England, Day 4 - Part 2

A very beautiful site - Bowes Castle
So after our mind-bending stop at Aukland Castle, we drove a bit down the road to Bowes Castle for lunch and a viewing.  Bowes is a French chateau built by a couple who filled it with treasures as a museum.  We had a special lunch in a private dining room and then went around the museum.  They had a very popular Yves St. Laurent exhibit which had been extended and was in its last week.  The lines were huge - but we had tickets set aside a year before.  The textile gallery have many treasures in it in a series of glass cases that had the fashions inter dispersed around them.  We may
Yum!  A lunch ready for us
have been the only ones not looking as much at the fashions but gasping at the historic embroideries.

EMB 390 - St. Peter, Bowes Castle Museum (17th century)
One, a stumpwork relief of St. Peter really made our heads spin.  The dimension was like sculpture.  The entire piece was worked in couched gold threads, but the threads were worked diagonally over the pairs of threads to add a more painterly look as well as direction to the fabrics.

One of the highlights of the Bowes Museum is the animatronic Silver Swan from the 18th century.  It moves at 2pm every day and our group quickly downed their lunch so they could run out and watch the swan move.
Close view of EMB 390 - St Peter, Bowes Castle
The water moves and little fish swim, the swan bends its neck around and bends down to catch a fish.  All in silver.
After catching more looks at the lace collection and a piece of stumpwork that was displayed, we started the rest of our trip to York, England where we would stay for the weekend.

EMB570 Stumpwork, Bowes Castle
Many of us had reserved dinner at the famous Betty's Tea Room for the evening and we had an hour or so to wander York before meeting up.  While on my stroll, I kept running into Pirates.  Yes, full blown, better dressed that Johnny Depp ones.  After my 20th or more pirate, I was thinking something was up.  I had seen them in drug stores, restaurants, on the street, taking tourists hostage, etc.  Finally I gave up and became a hostage myself with a great group and asked where the Pirate Brethren Court was.  I found out that this group has pirate meet-ups in towns all over the UK every year and they gave me a schedule card for 2016.  York was that night and they generally wander around dressed up and enjoy dinner and pubs for the evening.  Sounded like fun!  There must have been at least 100 pirates in town that night.  I resisted the urge to ask them to storm our gathering at the proper Betty's Tea Room.  It would have been so much fun and would have made great pictures!

Friday, November 20, 2015

Driving to England - Day 4, Part 1

Detail of the Lady Wintour Peascod Chasuble at Auckland Castle - a total surprise of Day 4
Bagpipes! Don't get us
started about the haggis
After a night of dancing and bagpipes (somewhere in there Richard made me dance and found out I have two left feet and try to lead!) we set off in our bus for a long (5 hour) ride to York for the weekend.  You have to admit that our bus sign must have gotten a bunch of looks and comments - and it did.  I kept telling our hilarious bus driver, Ian, that it was a front for our 'burlesque' club to throw people off the scent.  ha ha.  (He almost hit a car when I said that, laughing so hard.  I was slightly offended... is it so hard to believe?  ha ha).

We had a stop planned at Bowes Castle for a private lunch and viewing
The sign got many comments
their embroidery and very popular Yves St Laurent show.  But only a week before we embarked on the tour, I got a email from a friend alerting me to an exhibit that was opening in that region.  In fact, it was opening up the day before we would literally drive right by the museum!  So we quickly contacted our bus group and changed the schedule so we could stop on the way to Bowes Castle.

What an incredible treat it was!  Imagine the most famous thwarted assassination in England - the Guy Fawkes gunpowder plot - and then that a co-conspirator, Robert Wintour, had a daughter, Helen Wintour who was a  prolific embroiderer.  They were Catholic so her 17th century embroidery was placed on vestments and chalice veils.  The exhibit is called Plots and Spangles, and is being held at Aukland Castle.  If you are in the UK before April 11, 2016 - go see it!!
These are only some of TEN vestments and multiple chalice veils she embroidered!!

The exhibit was was completely mind-blowing.  Stumpwork grapes and slips all over these vestments, metal threads and silks used in the most amazing high relief.  Roses and pea pods.  We were thrilled with the joining of a very famous event and embroidery.

We came in on its second day like a band of warriors with only an hour to see it (had we known, the website really doesn't do it any justice at all, we would have set aside more time).  Our cameras were blazing and noses pressed to the glass along with excited chatter.  The lovely, poor docent didn't know what hit her!  We could barely listen to her chat on embroidery.  Then to add to it - I turned into another room and was presented with a case that had 'modern reproduction' threads for the
The Bodenham Chalice Veil
viewer to compare to and saw stumpwork threads that I had made in my attic workroom!!  I had no idea how they ended up in the case as I am the only one who sells them.  The next day Mary Brooks admitted that all the threads I had donated to the Ashmolean exhibit had been loaned to this one and they hadn't gotten the labels up the night before in the rush to mount the exhibit - not knowing I would be walking in from America!  Mystery solved - I had wanted to refund the person who had bought them as I don't charge museums for items for their displays.
The Bodenham Chalice Veil - you can see plaited braid, a flatted coil used in the edges of many elements, gilt 1 1/2 twist,
detached buttonhole over gold threads to fill the leaves, and drizzle stitch for the stems with corals and pearls embedded.  A new idea instead of doing that for grottos.

There were techniques on some veils that I had never seen before and I WANT to do.  One is using a thread that is in the second box for the Frostings Club, so that was pretty cool.  I know a new way of using it.   There is a guide that is given out in the exhibit that is also online so you can see it.  But even better, there is a book that was published for the exhibit.  Now a funny story - our tour guide who had joined us the night before for the middle-of-England portion, had grabbed this tour as she is an avid embroiderer.  So at every stop she knew exactly what we would want - she would scope the gift store and if there was an obvious purchase - she would alert the staff to go get more out and then let us all know in the gallery that there was a book.  Good girl!  So at this location, they had just opened the first box the night before of the book.  She told them - you don't have enough!  The book was just 10 pounds ($15).  They didn't believe her.... of course a few trips to the basement and we had bought 20% of all the books they had printed for the seven month long exhibit.  Yes - they looked a bit shellshocked by us locusts.  It is really nice as it combines the history of the plot with the embroidery.   They don't have an online store - so if you want one - email:

Veil associated with Lady Wintour Peascod Chasuble - Yes all those petals are detached buttonhole over gold or silver threads - the sparkle is amazing.  This vase of flowers is about 9" x 9" in size.
The Alleluia Chasuble - Those grapes are stuffed spiral trellis in a silver strip wrapped silk.  The petals on the roses and flowers are all detached buttonhole over a gold thread.  The purple gem - is one.  The dimension on this piece is mind bending -- you actually say "Alleluia" when you see it and then are blown away that this is the work of one woman. But the thing is - you recognize the 'hand' and choices in all the pieces.  She liked particular techniques and treated similar motifs the same way.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Robot Update - Compost

One of the kids is living in Germany right now.  She is a
'founding member', having been on the floor playing
with my youngest since she was four while her older brother
programmed the LEGO robot.  So she Skypes in every week.
Her brother has a webcam mounted on our TV and actually
programs the metal robot and has my son run it while he watches
from Berlin. 
So our little guys and gals, Robot Revolution have published their project for this year on the very popular site,  If you haven't seen yet - it is a way for makers to distribute the instructions to make almost anything.  It was the brainchild of someone I knew at the Media Lab at MIT.  For this and a few other projects, he won the MacArthur Genius award.

The season's problem is Trash Trek - anything to do with the control of the world's trash.  We had a leg up as one of the children's extended family is in the 'biz.  They run several of the big recycling and composting operations in the Boston area.  We learned an amazing amount, including the harsh realities of today's recycling dilemma.  It was quite eye opening to go through a discussion of the tonnage of recycling per community, how much it costs to separate (as well as how) each type and how much the market will pay and what customers there are for it.  We got into the historical changes in the recycling stream as well.  The hard truth right now is that it costs more to separate than what can be sold.  And well-off communities recycle more useless materials (like imported green bottles - no one makes green glass in the USA) and less well off communities have more valuable recycling (less put in and a higher proportion of AL cans - the most valuable).

The kids tried out all kinds of ideas and just before I left for the Casket Tour they settled on making
We don't have fun around here!  Three small
robot kids fit in a composter or two big ones.
There was no end to the fun until we started
filling it with kitchen scraps!

home composting more viable.  As we poled everyone - we found out that all of us had some big composting bin somewhere on our property that was full but not really degrading (we inherited one at our last house - 15 years later it still wasn't dirt!).  They realized that no one wants to turn it, an essential requirement to make it degrade.  So if you don't get the air in, nothing happens.

I think we were up to 1700 views last time I checked.
So they came up with a way to retrofit the most popular yard composter in the world - the Earth Machine.  It is sold by most municipalities for 1/3 retail value, so was a good choice.  They built a solar powered 'stirrer' for the compost.  Take a look at it on the Instructables web site.  We need 'views' for our competition in December and would love you to add to it.   Instructables gave us a head start as they 'featured' us today, which really made the kids day.  They also entered the Robot competition with their project - so click the VOTE button at the top right of the page too and help them win some prizes.  Check out the movie (click 'see more' at the first set of pictures) too.

Wish them luck in their qualifier December 5th!

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

The Burrell Collection - Day 3, Part 3

The Burrell Collection - Acc No. 29/169 - Not shrunken heads, but stuffed forms that had black stitching around them. See discussion below

I know, I know - there must be many of you out there screaming that you wanted to see the other two sides!  So here they are.  The stumpwork casket has two angels and the other has a lion and a unicorn (the second of each on this piece!).  
The Burrell Collection

The Burrell Collection

Many people have reached out to me to ask if one of the motifs is a shrunken head with the angel.  It isn't, the embroidery is rubbed off the stuffed form and so it look like that in grainy pictures.

The Burrell Collection - Acc No. 29/169

The Burrell Collection - Acc No. 29/169

Sunday, November 15, 2015

End of an Era - Tokens and Trifles

It seems prophetic that so many of the Victorian pieces said
"Forget me not".  I hope our 21st century versions won't
be forgotten either.
I am a bit sad today.  Many of you may or may not know that Tokens and Trifles is a business of mine - a joint venture with two friends: Justyna Teverovsky and Wendy White.  We started this company back in 2005 when the time was right for all of us to look into a big new project.  Today starts the beginning of the end.  Wendy, Justyna and I have decided to shut down the company and place all the remaining stock on deep discount.  Instead of just telling you to go to the site and grab some of the sewing cards for your stash, I thought you might be interested in how small companies in the needlework space come into being and then close.   A window into the brief lifespan of lovely materials - they are fleeting.  I know I say this over and over again and yet watch people tell me over and over - "I'm planning for that [insert course, box, thread, etc] when I finish [insert sampler, job, retire, etc].  I so want to take them by the shoulders and yell - "it won't be here then!!"  I know only too well about the life and death of threads, linens, fabrics, etc.  I have watched so many companies die or products go away because the expertise or machines have gone.  50% of the kits I used to produce in Thistle Threads aren't anymore because a component doesn't exist anymore, not because they aren't viable.  And other needlework businesses are not large enough to buy one when it decides to fold, so they just disapear.

Wendy and I had discovered sometime in 2004 that we each had a passion for the 'original' perforated
The originals came in plain center and perforated center so
an assortment of woman's accomplishments could be worked
on the cards.  We loved this idea so the original
Tokens and Trifles came with a 'blank' too.
paper.  Back when perforation machines were developed, about 1860, the idea to combine die cutting and embossed paper with embroidery was hatched as part of the ephemera explosion of the Victorian Era.  This perforated paper could be as small as 32 holes per inch and was rarely as course as 18 holes per inch.  It was made from thick, luxurious paper with a smooth finish - and decorative edges that made the unstitched pieces works of art before the embroidery.  They were the 'quick projects' of their time, often called trinkets.

A delicate and still perfect original that was over 100 years old
I found it on a ski trip in Vermont and couldn't wait
to show it to Wendy
She and I stumbled upon one in an antiques store with a group and I bought it.  Later she called me and admitted that she had a collection of them and what did I think of these little cards?  I told her that I loved them and had been musing over them in some books for years.  "Why doesn't anyone make these?" I said.  She discussed what she knew of how these may have been made and challenged me - 'You are an engineer, aren't you?'.  Within a year, Tokens and Trifles was born.  They say to never make a product that you don't desperately want yourself .  We loved it and wanted it so much that we brought these decoratively
We were about to cut this pattern when the company doing
out manufacturing failed to get their annual loan and closed
This was my personal favorite and I still mourn that we
never even tested the finished design file!
edged, fine count cards back to life.

Wendy and I scoured the antiques markets and built what is definitely the largest collection of these perforated paper wonders in the world.  We even have the printing plates that pre-printed the patterns on some - including the unstitched versions and stitched versions.  We were planning a book with the definitive history.

Justyna came aboard as she had just finished an entrepreneurship MBA, was an engineer like me and a stitcher.  Between us we had all the skills needed.  We learned tons about packaging, manufacturing, partnerships, design patents, and more.  It was looking great as the market really liked the little cards, they were featured in magazines, other designers were using them and they were in stores around the world.

An Ebay find that led me to visit the seller in Germany,
she had so many treasures
Then 2008 happened.  You might remember back then capital was so tight as we all felt like we were going back into the Great Depression.  Banks stopped loaning to anyone.  The Great Recession was compounded and magnified by this false impression, banks refused to loan to businesses that were seasonal who used the capital to float the business until the Christmas season and then repay and take out their next loan.  There are many very successful small business categories where this is the mode of operation -
stationary is one.  Calendars and greeting cards have 90% sold at Christmas time.  So those companies need to use small business loans to float their payroll and then payback and take the next.  It is how those businesses work and have been a great and stable loan group for small banks for  a century.  The system broke in 2008.  By January 2009, companies went back for their next loan and

An outstanding example of the flights of fancy available in the original 'perforated paper period'.
were refused, profitable and long standing companies.  Massachusetts is full of them as this is the birthplace of greeting cards as well as where American perforated paper was made.

Wendy, Justyna and I had searched out a very special operation with some incredibly good equipment here in Massachusetts.  I had a background in laser holography and so knew what type of laser
There were patterns for cut and stacked perforated paper
madein France
system we were looking for to manufacture our ideas (Tokens and Trifles).  The system was custom built and with it, we could make these cut edge, 20 count pieces with a satin finish.  Unfortunately, it was part of a greeting card company in the middle of Massachusetts.  Our hearts sunk in March of 2009 when after stretching themselves as far as they could to make payroll and were searching for a bank that would give them their annual loan, they had to take drastic steps.  By summer, the company was closed and the equipment had been divided up into a dozen lots for auction.  The lovely staff had let us know but we just couldn't float the $75K for the system and then build a building with proper high voltage/ventilation, etc to save it for our company.   It was horrible, a viable family business that was profitable - killed by cash flow issues caused by the unwillingness of banks to loan for six months, so many 20-year employees out of work.  And now, we couldn't make Tokens and Trifles anymore.

I went into high gear, we had already found all the US manufacturers who could do volume laser
This one is printed with the pattern over the squares
cutting and we went back and worked with several.  We also investigated overseas, but to great disappointment in quality.  We had tons of stock and could survive awhile, the market had significantly slowed due to the recession all around for needlework, until I solved the technical problems.  Unfortunately the systems that exist could not cut free edges and we just couldn't get the hole quality with them back down to 20 count.  With the previous system, we could even cut down to 32 count but the needles that were used in the Victorian Era to stitch on them don't exist anymore (another long story as I investigated that - a victim of World War I).  20 count was the finest we could go and still have a needle that worked.  Now, we were limited to 18-count and decided to launch a new low cost line called Trinkets.

We are incredibly proud of the product lines
and so, so sad to close.
We had hoped that this would save us for the long haul.  But we just couldn't survive the loss of Tokens and Trifles combined with several other factors.  In the last decade we have all gotten a bit older - or more importantly - our families have.  The conditions that got us into Tokens and Trifles in the first place had now moved on their inevitable paths and responsibilities like taking care of parents in another city, getting kids into college and other issues were draining our time.  The Plimoth Jacket
had come up and we all felt it was a very important project and devoted time to it as well.  The time was right for the Cabinet of Curiosities.  Our E-Textile work exploded.  All things that made it hard for us to devote the time we needed to make the company come back from the blow in 2009.

We have known for several years that it was time to close - yet the love of the product line has kept us open.  So much so that it really doesn't make sense anymore.  So today is the beginning of the last phase.  Our site will remain open for 1-year from today for people to access the free patterns, but operations and sales will be closed down soon.  So if you would like some of the sewing cards for yourself or as gifts, please visit the site soon.

Tricia, Jusytna and Wendy

Friday, November 13, 2015

The Burrell Collection - Day 3, Part 2

The Burrell Collection - Acc No. 29/169

The Burrell Collection
As I said, we might spend a few posts on the lovelies at the Burrell Collection!  Here I am excited to show two caskets where the pattern for the cabinet panels was exactly the same - sort of like the last post where there were two caskets, one unfinished, with the same design.  But in that case, the embroidery was being executed the same way.  In this case, one casket is in 'high' stumpwork and the other is satin stitched with a satin stitch filled background.  

The Burrell Collection 

The Burrell Collection - Acc No. 29/169

It is fascinating because you can really see how the choice of treatment changes the look of a piece so radically.  It will take you a few minutes to stare at the stumpwork one to realize that it is the same... but it is.

The Burrell Collection 

The Burrell Collection - Acc No. 29/169
So the underdrawing was the same, but the cabinet maker may have been different.  The satin stitch one seem to have either modification in a later period or a very different maker of the box.  Perhaps the entire embroidery was put onto a form much later after its embroidery was finished.  Nothing conclusive yet.
The Burrell Collection - Acc No. 29/169

The Burrell Collection

Here on the side under the unicorn, there is a lower frieze that is different with a dog and running hare which was replaced by a set of spots including a squirrel.

The Burrell Collection

The Burrell Collection - Acc No. 29/169

If you look at the back panel closely, you will notice just a few changes to it, like the addition of a few diminutional acorns to the tree as well as the flower on the far left is covered with a grotto in the stumpwork version. 

The Burrell Collection - Acc No. 29/169

The Burrell Collection

The Burrell Collection

The Burrell Collection - Acc No. 29/169
The remaining panels, being the left and right sides are not the same.  But that makes only three out of the 18 panels are different.  So some customization for the stitcher but otherwise something that the draftsman was comfortable with.   Isn't it interesting that the ground fabric was different as well!  The stumpwork piece was on satin and the other on a course linen ground.

Hope you enjoyed this!  This is the type of thing found in the Cabinet of Curiosities course, if you are wondering.