Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Why Take the Class?

So I have been getting quite a few emails of late from readers who want to buy a casket without taking the Cabinet of Curiosities course.

The emails always contain a laundry list of the years of textile love, course experience, teachers they have studied under, certifications, master craftsmen courses, etc. of the writer to try to convince me that they don't need to take the course or increase their stash, thank you very much.  The emails usually run to several paragraphs and sometimes contain testimonials from family members on how beautifully they embroider and thus they don't need my instruction.  (I can't help it - hard to write back as it really seems like a comment on my precevied uselessness as a teacher).

The point is totally missed.

The reason I want people who buy the caskets to have taken the class is very simple:  Do you know how to attach the embroidery to the casket?

How do you get the embroidery on? And please don't say
lacing.  That is nowhere near how it was done.
Plain and simple.  Sit with a picture of a casket for awhile and think past the embroidery!  Also think for awhile - have you ever seen one in person?  Taken the drawers in and out?  Operated the secret locks?  What if you were given a bare one and told that the entire thing was covered in multiple layers of papers and fabrics and if you cover the edges the wrong way, the drawers won't go in and out.  What glue was used?  How do I put the glue on my embroidery?  For gosh sake - how do you mix the glue?  GLUE??  Don't you just lace it and pop it into the frame? (No, absolutely wrong, no frame, it's glued to the outside).  Did you know that the embroidery has to be done so it isn't too thick in certain areas or the hardware and tapes won't fit?  What are tapes? Do you have templates to design inside?  Why can't I cover it in computer paper and need that expensive paper on your site? The list goes on and on.

Are you willing to go it alone after spending 2 years on your beautiful embroidery?

That is what the course is about.  Remember - any 12 year old was allowed to embroider one in the 17th century - but they sent the finished embroidery to a finisher to build the casket and apply the embroidery.  Why do you need a laundry list of certifications today to convince me to let you embroider one?  What you need is knowledge of how they went together!  That is the information you can't find anywhere but the course.

The course has materials so it can have projects to allow you to try the finishing technique and risk screwing up a very small project (hopefully I successfully lead you through that project so it isn't screwed up) instead of one costing thousands and taking years to work.

You can spend the money on the casket without the class - but I feel responsible to tell you why you shouldn't hand over so much money to me without the knowledge of how to cover it.

Most people have never seen a casket up close.  Anyone know why that drawer has stuff on the edge and
silk threads in front? 

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

A Design Contest!!

Lacet flowers (A Poesy Casket Toy Kit)
Thistle Threads is sponsoring a design competition around ‘casket toys’ of the 17th century.  During the study of English embroidered cabinets, a preponderence of small needlework objects have been found both in boxes in private and public collections.  Many of which are highly similar and fall into catagories of smalls that may have been schoolgirl exercises.  They parallel the types of objects that needleworkers favor making today: needlebooks, small purses, tape measures, needlekeeps and pin keeps.  In addition to the traditional shapes that these items bring to mind, a wealth of other unusual and delightful forms exisit such as bellows, grape purses, poseys, small animals, tiny gloves, and stand-up figural, floral, and animal arrangements.

While there are many techniques used in these pieces, two are found quite often and haven’t been explored to their fullest and most creative extensions.  The first is the use of a narrow flat braid (lacet) to construct floral poseys, animals/birds, and other items where it would be more expedient to sew together the lacets than needlelace a piece.

The second is the use of a wire frame that is then covered with wool batt and wrapped with a
Expanded gilt bullion around a silk covered wire structure,
this is the close up view of a snake
decorative silk or cotton thread and then covered with an expanded bullion, purl or check thread in silver or gilt.  

The competition is based around the use of one of two materials:  2mm Lacet or any gilt or silver bullion, purl, or check thread.  Bias will be given to those which show some use of the techniques described above somewhere in the object.
The objects need to fit inside a casket that Thistle Threads sells and can be afixed if that is central to the design.  A series of blogs startign July 1st, 2016 on Thistle Threads site will help to show techniques and examples for you to draw upon.

There are two needlework nibbles that show these techniques for your reference.  It is fine to use the objects in the needlework nibbles (snake and pansy) as well as the Lacet Peacock class piece and/or Strawberry Posey kit in the contest as long as they are only a part of the entire design. 

The contest entries are due on December 31st, 2016 so there is plenty of time to get thinking and making!!  

Check out the contest PDF for full contest details.  The blog will spend the next few weeks going over inspiration items and techniques that can be used in the contest.


Sunday, June 26, 2016

Planning for the End of Casket Making

I think everyone can tell that I am a planner - an engineer - someone who always has a 10-year plan in my head (or on paper).  So it should be no surprise that I have planned for a graceful end to the casket making as well.

Richard and I sat down a month ago and really plotted things out.  We are right now nearing the end of the caskets that are in the queue that are on order from students and we wanted to plan forward for those that might be ordered, what I need for my project class upcoming, and his end to making them.

Richard will be retiring in 2021 and since this is already his second career (he used to own and operate a large engineering plastics plant), he and his lovely wife have already started traveling quite a bit (Iran was a fantastic trip they took just last year and he just got back from a trip to Ireland).  So we made some hard decisions on when to wrap up making boxes and put January 2021 as the date of the last deliveries.  Based on our historic volume, I put in orders for hardware and locks a month ago to tide us through 2019 and then we will plan our last wrap-up order of hardware and locks.  We also estimated how many caskets could be made between now and then.

This means that students who are thinking about ordering a casket should consider putting it on order
to claim a spot in the queue.  While January 2021 seems like a long time in the future - in 'casket years' it is not.  Since most people put their caskets on order in a 24-month payment cycle - that backs it up to December 2018.  And realistically, he can't make 100 caskets for delivery the same day!  And realistically, I can't store dozens of caskets here either.  So we make them to order.

I wanted to give all the students past, present and future a long warning period that we would stop making caskets because of the long payment cycles and making time.  I am not sure yet when we will have to stop taking orders - as that will be a fluid thing based on how many are in the queue and the time frame to manufacture any remaining locks needed.  But it could be six-nine months before he stops making them.

If anyone wants to reserve one and needs to go on a longer payment plan than offered - let me know and we can work something out.  I have streamlined the ordering method on my website to make it easier to get that done.

Just to recap - there are four full-sized cabinet options available that range from $375 - $2640.  And don't be fooled by the lesser priced options as being too simple.  In fact, the simplicity allows for even greater embellishing and 'tricking' out.  Some students have made doors in the lids by adding wood dividers that are embroidered, installed beautiful music boxes in the bottoms and false bottoms to expand the complexity, and I know there are gardens underway slowing growing in silk inside some of the cavities!  So in many ways the most inexpensive of the caskets will end up some of the most stunning and complex.

And yes - that was planned...


Saturday, June 25, 2016

A Fun Pincushion for Summer Stitching - A New Needlework Nibble!

Flame Stitch Pincushion - Needlework Nibble.  The background show the three silk velvet backing choices.
This Flame Stitch pincushion is the latest needlework nibble and one of three that will show up in the next month!  It is 2" x 2.5" and is inspired by the small pincushion in the Martha Edlin casket.  Using a different flame stitch pattern, it does take its colors from the original.  Worked in Soie Paris on a 24-count Montrose linen, it is backed with silk velvet like the originals.

The pattern for this is available for download.  It is quick and easy to do - something that I really love when taking long rides or sitting at the beach.  Not much counting - once the pattern is established you just follow along with the next row.  And over a large count too!

I designed this with the colors from the Cabinet of Curiosities Kit 1 thread kits, so if you already have that, pull it out and you should have all the thread you need to work this piece.  If you need a piece of linen and that yummy silk velvet - they are both offered on the shop site.  If you don't have the threads, a full kit is available too - just get it and download the instructions before you head out on your summer vacation.

And while you are there - if you are working the Pink Pincushion Needlework Nibble from the Frostings Club and would like a backing piece of silk velvet for that too -  I have those up as well.


Thursday, June 23, 2016

All Good Things Must Come to an End - The Last Running of Cabinet of Curiosities

Yes - I said it last year that the 2016 Encore of Cabinet of Curiosities would be the last running and it is.  There are many reasons for this:

- My licensing contracts with the museums (historic pictures) will be running out and to renegotiate all of them again is quite an undertaking and I don't think there will be enough students in the future to justify the numbers I will need to agree to.

- Many of the thread manufacturers have capacity limits or will retire and so my ability to supply the current students with the threads they need will become more limited and I want to make sure everyone can finish what they have started.  We already have had a first retirement.

- My cabinet maker, Richard, will be retiring.

When I started this course in 2010, I knew it was a 10-year window at best where we had excited and willing artisans who were knowledgeable and still plying their trade as well as a student population with interest and 'keen eyes and nimble fingers' still.  So I put the massive investment into the apparatus that would be needed.  But I knew that the window would start to close somewhere around 2020 when the ages of the artisans would have them retire or slow down their work greatly to take advantage of travel and other distractions of a life well worked.  And while we had all hoped against hope that the European companies who make threads could take on apprentices to pass on knowledge, the window for that is closing.  For those of us Americans perplexed by the strikes and fights in the EU; they are over labor laws and struggles by the governments to make modifications.  I see it on the ground as I hear the difficulties from the manufacturers in why they can't commit to apprentices because they have little options to make changes - the risks for 1-5 person operations become too great and thus they can't take on new hires to pass on knowledge or increase production.  After spending a decade trying to help them increase business to do so - I now understand it is unlikely in many cases and we will see some threads disappear.

So while we are still 3.5 years before 2020 - it is time to start ending the Cabinet of Curoisities as I want to give new students the time to design, decide and purchase their casket before Richard stops making them in January 2021.

So Cabinet of Curiosities 2016 is now taking course reservations.  The description of the course as well as additional links is at this page.  Reservations can be handled through this shop page.  In September I will be deciding how many kits to make and reserving thread making.  Once I do that - I will have a few extra spots for late comers until the kits run out - but that will be it.  A sad day for me, for sure.

I am designing a flat short casket right now that will become a project course and am planning on threads and caskets for it.  I will be ordering a certain number ahead of production stopping and will announce that course as soon as I have the project finished (maybe a year or so).  But it will be limited as there is just only so much production room between now and January 2021 for everyone involved to make things.  A small tent stitch trinket box project will be launching in the fall for those who just aren't ready for something huge - I will be having many trinket boxes made in between the large caskets and we will see how long those kits last into the future.

So if your dream has been to make an embroidered cabinet of your own - the time to plan on it is upon us all.


Tuesday, June 21, 2016

German Dyeing Recipe Book

Artisan's Recipe Book for Dyeing Wool, 1680  Getty Research Institute
What a treasure!  These how-to manuals of the 17th century are like gold for researchers, especially like those of us who reproduce threads and need to name colors!  I happen to know that Lamora Haidar uses resources like this when our colors come back, that I have carefully chosen from the backs of embroideries, and needs to give them a color name.  It can take a long time to research the dyes and the samples related to a name to come up with what it actually looks like.  I am thrilled that she spends the time as now when I read inventories, such as Queen Elizabeth I's, a visual picture of the piece starts showing up in my head as I know what 'Incarnadine' looks like.

Artisan's Recipe Book for Dyeing Wool, 1680  Getty Research Institute.  This page
shows the difference of time in the dye pot.
So this is a German dyers recipe book from the 17th century, dated 1680.  While it is focused on
wool, the amazing thing about it is that it has wool samples in it that are affixed with red sealing wax!  So not only do you have the color preserved between the pages with the recipe and variables like time, etc. - you have a real sample that can be chemically tested either nondestructively or destructively with tiny hair like samples removed.  That is a TREASURE.

This book is owned by the Getty Research Institute and there is a wonderful blog about the book by Karin Leonhard (Research Scholar, MPIWG) and David Brafman (Curator for Rare Books, Getty Research Institute) that I will let you read instead of paraphrasing.

And even better for any of you who get really interested and 'geek-ed' out by stuff like this, the entire manuscript has been photo graphed and put up on the Getty site for researchers.  It is a bit clunky to go through, but fun none the less.

Click here for the digital version and then click on the upper right link "Display Item" to get to a series of files with the pages digitized inside.


Friday, June 17, 2016

Another Nelham Designed Picture

There was a really lovely (and ultimately very expensive - I watched the auction live in case it was a bargain to be had, drat) picture up for auction last week in the UK.  This piece conforms to the recognizable John Nelham genre of designs with its cartouche with five-lobed flowers at the 45 degree positions as well as the heavy-lided style of character portraiture and the large single flowers at the corners.

When magnified (go to the site), the long and short nature of the satin stitch almost makes it look painted at the resolution of the photo.  I soooo would have liked to have seen this piece in person as I think it might have been a total stunner in embroidery quality.  The textural stumpwork threads used in the cartouche alone signified a really well done piece.

Overall a great 'daily yum' to drink a cup of tea while studying


Lot 1284 June 9th Canterbury Auctions

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Want to be a Textile Designer?

There are always interesting things on Kickstarter - especially if you have a few dollars to spare for something novel and are willing to wait a very long time.

Awhile ago, I was describing how I have gotten all these new thread lines designed and made and the business model I was using.  The sharp gentleman I was talking to at the cocktail party was amazed and said 'you have invented your own crowd funding mechanism!?' or in other words, a Kickstarter for historic embroidery materials.  I smiled and said 'yes - exactly'.

SOOO - since my audience is willing to risk on the new and novel, I thought I would bring up a real 'historic' meets tech textile development that is on Kickstarter right now.  You might have heard about Spoonflower, a way to digitally print small batches of fabric using your designs.  Well, now there is something much more complicated - WOVNS - a way to digitally design your own Jacquard fabrics and have them woven in very small batches - as low as a yard.  This is certainly something that I wanted to play with!  So I was waiting for the launch of this kickstarter for several months.  Who knows, I might just make a cool scarf OR something inspired by historic patterns for a couch pillow.  WHO knows.  I don't know yet - but I am sure that this type of low volume digital printing and weaving will lead to other unique opportunities in the future that might end up in one of my kits.  :-) Maybe silk will be down the road someday.

Here is even a design from an embroidered jacket in the V&A (I have pillows made from a Jacquard version of this pattern on my couch) that has been uploaded to Spoonflower and available in several color way prints.   So you can start to see all kinds of options.  Someday I wish they would allow great linen - can you imagine pre-printing embroidery designs...


Sunday, June 12, 2016

Flemish Casket

There was a Flemish Casket that was offered on auction last week.  It had areas that seemed extraordinarily well preserved and so I requested more pictures of the embroidery as well as a condition report.

It seems that while much was in great condition; restoration and 'addition' was done in an earlier period.  There were areas where fine silk chenille (late 18th/19th century) was added to replace silk that was missing or add detail to the piece that may have been desired.  It is likely that the embroideries were disbanded from the cabinet at some point to enable this.

So as long as you know that the embroider is of two periods, it is ok.  Several of the largest panels are totally missing (Top and two door linings).  I wonder if they were sold off years ago as they would have been more desirable.  But it is tremendous fun to see even more of these pieces!

Carlo Bonte Auctions Lot 407 June 9th, 2016

Carlo Bonte Auctions Lot 407 June 9th, 2016

Carlo Bonte Auctions Lot 407 June 9th, 2016  The red and green silk in the trees may have been additions 

Carlo Bonte Auctions Lot 407 June 9th, 2016  The bright blue silk for the water is silk chenille, a later time period thread.

Carlo Bonte Auctions Lot 407 June 9th, 2016.  This has silk chenille apples stitched on the original tree.

Carlo Bonte Auctions Lot 407 June 9th, 2016  Again, the trees and water seems to be embellished with a new flat silk.

Carlo Bonte Auctions Lot 407 June 9th, 2016.  The interior of the center is just breathtaking and the silks are in good condition, as would be expected.

Carlo Bonte Auctions Lot 407 June 9th, 2016.  I haven't seen two of three drawers made into a single drawer.

Carlo Bonte Auctions Lot 407 June 9th, 2016.  I really like the three designs used on these six doors.  It is very likely that the colors and silk on these is in original condition as many of these caskets with an interior door have embroidery in excellent condition.

Carlo Bonte Auctions Lot 407 June 9th, 2016.  Side view of inner door.

Carlo Bonte Auctions Lot 407 June 9th, 2016

Carlo Bonte Auctions Lot 407 June 9th, 2016

Carlo Bonte Auctions Lot 407 June 9th, 2016

Thursday, June 9, 2016


Reader Jessica G. commented that the story shown was Moses striking the Rock from Numbers 20: 1-13.  So I looked up 17th century engravings of Moses Striking the Rock and found many engravings which all had the general composition of a grotto or large rock face/pile with a single stream coming out of it as he had a upheld arm with a stick in it and some grouping of people and animals ecstatic to the other side of the composition.  So I agree with Jessica that this one is Moses - mystery solved - and just WISH we could have seen the rest of the casket this piece must have come from!!

Moses Drawing Water From the Rock, from the series of etchings Biblical Scenes, after the frescoes by Raphael in the Vatican Loggia, 1607 (deYoung Museum, San Francisco) Acc. No. 1958.142.2.29
Moses Drawing Water from the Rock, Giovanni Battista Franco16th-17th century (deYoung Museum, San Francisco) Acc. No. 1963.30.36639

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

What is this Story?

Sometimes you see a piece of embroidery from the 17th century casket/mirror/picture genre and you wonder what the story is.  There are so few story lines that have been used that you get really used to seeing them and knowing which one a panel is from.  So this one is interesting because it isn't immediately apparent.  And I know from experience to take the auction listing with a grain of salt until I verify from another source that it makes sense.

So that is the mystery of the day - what biblical story or allegorical is this from?

Lot 162 Conestoga Auctions June 11, 2016
It is listed as a picture of Moses with followers.  But which story - usually there is something in the picture to clue us in.  I wouldn't exactly call the grotto the Red Sea.  And two of the figures are in military garb with darker faces and hands.  But the 'moses' character also has darker hands/face and the non-military gents have dark hands and light faces.  Hmmm.  It is the missing panels that would seal the deal, reasonably sure this is a side of a casket.

What do you think?


Tuesday, June 7, 2016

New Online University Course - Gentleman's Glittering Nightcap

This sweet piece is a miniature nightcap from the Stuart Era about 5" tall. The life-sized versions of these pieces were often worked in professional workshops and could be bought at the Royal Exchange. This miniature example is worked in coiling stems using a variety of stitches such as detached buttonhole, trellis, and spiral trellis plus reverse chain for the gold stem. The main flowers are all worked in gilt sylke twist with the supporting elements worked in soie gobelin. The nightcap lifts off of its base and reveals
an etui tower that holds needlework tools.

The story behind this piece is that it was the bargaining chip that pushed the production of the gilt sylke twist thread!!  Back when we were trying to get the GST made for the Plimoth Jacket, I needed to guarantee that I would purchase a certain amount of thread of each color.  Each production run would be larger than what the jacket project would need.  So I designed this piece to use the thread and highlight its wonderful character and taught it to a lovely group about a year after we started the jacket.  It did the trick and that is how we got GST produced!  Now in a larger color range, this thread will have a finite lifetime as it is very difficult to make and it takes a very special person to make it.  
Lessons:  There are six stitching/history lessons with pictures of spectacular historic embroidered nightcaps

Options:  You can get the teaching project either with or without a slate frame that is sized for the project.

Monday, June 6, 2016

Lovely Tent Stitch Pillow

Lot 892 Anderson & Garland Ltd. Newcastle Auction June 14th, 2016
This antique pillow is a set of tent stitch motifs, possibly of the early 17th century remounted on a black velvet pillow.  I have a set of 17th century tent stitch motifs from a set of curtains and they show multiple backs to them - so they were remounted multiple times.  I haven't yet decided what I will do with them - but this is a lovely idea with a new or old set!


Sunday, June 5, 2016

Plimoth Jacket Viewing Opportunity

I am often asked about seeing the Plimoth Jacket by stitchers.  Well, I got an email about an event at Plimoth Plantation where they will be bringing out the jacket for a viewing during an event for hand crafters.


Saturday, June 4, 2016

Stumpwork Mirror Available Today

Lot 287 Concept Art Gallery - June 4th, 2016 Auction
There is a very nice stumpwork mirror going on auction today at Concept Art Gallery.  In an auction of mostly modern art, this object has the most pre-done bids (according to Live Auctioneers).  So I expect it will get a fair price.  But for those of us who have to enjoy from the wings, here are pictures of the piece from their website to drool over and maybe inspire a bit!

The king and queen's panels are the stars of the piece, it is nice to see the counted top and bottom flowers contrasting with the more elaborate needlelace of the figures.  It shows how you can mix some 'comfort' stitching with something more elaborate and time consuming to get a elegant result.

Now look closer at the King and realize that he has three arms!  Actually what has happened is that the left embroidered arm/sleeve has come off the piece and was pinned above the right arm.  It was as if the last framer/conservator/owner just couldn't figure out what bits were and knew it must have come from 'that area'.  I have seen this a few times where sub sections of stumpwork have their couching stitches degrade and fall off and then the piece is pinned or nailed to some other spot.  A bit of careful looking and the weird item finds its home!


P.S.  Just sold for $16,000 which makes it $20,000 with the premium.