Saturday, 31 March 2007

Museum Alert

The news last night mentioned that an interesting piece will be on view in Vienna for the rest of the year.

The emperor Franz Josef married Princess Elisabeth of Bavaria in 1854. The ceremony itself was fairly private. Afterwards the embroidered parts of her gown were used to create a cope for the pilgimage church of Maria Taferl, where it was in use into the 1950s. Snce then it has kept been in the church treasury. It was not clear whether on display or not. This year the church and treasury are being renovated, and this piece will be on display at the 'Sisi Museum' in the Hofburg. From the pictures I saw it is lovely work in silver thread, and I am looking forward to seeing it. They said it would be in one of the side rooms of the museum.

Interesting note: there does not seem to be any record of what the gown looked like before it was cut apart. A call has been put out for anyone with private diaries that might include any information about this should let the appropriate office know. As only family and court members were present, and the journalists and public never got to see the gown, this is only possible for a few people to have.

Anyway, if gold and silver embroidery is your thing, and you are in Vienna this year, make a short visit to the Sisi museum after seeing the Imperial Treasury. BTW, many of the vestments in the treasury were probably made in a similar fashion. Not, of course, the major sets, but the simpler individual pieces.

Thursday, 29 March 2007

Thread Art

I saw an article about works of art made out of spools of thread in New Scientist magazine, and sure enough, there are lots more pictures on the web at

At first it kind of wows you: big copies of famous works of art made out of spools of thread then viewed through lenses that pull it all together. Then you realize that 5000 spools comes down to about 70 x 70 - a fairly normal size cross stitch pattern for a card. The only difference is the size of the coloured square of thread. And because the squares we use are so small the eye itself can turn the pixels into a picture. Not only that, but we can use various stitches and fibres and add beads, and our works can be easily mailed to friends, or hung on the wall in our apartments... OK Devorah Sperber is an artist. I'm 'just' a craft person. I think I like it better that way. And I use up plenty of thread my way, too.

Tuesday, 20 March 2007

Week 12 Project 8 Happy Birthday,Steven!

Steven wanted a mouse he can carry around. They use laptops a lot at school, and he works better with a real mouse. So I bought him a mouse and special thin mouse pad. (Whether there are technical problems is his worry, not mine.) My worry was how this mouse is going to survive in his pack. So I made him a mouse pouch. The pouch is quilted and the pad also acts to protect the mouse, so I think it should be safe. There is also a small pocket for Steven's Data stick, which also tends to get lost or damaged at regular intervals.

I've taken pictures, and should get them up soon. The camera and my computer don't talk to each other, so I need Jerry's help - it talks to Jerry's computer.

I'm not totally happy with the job I did of the sewing - I usually figured out how I should have done things about two or three seams further on, and I didn't frog it to make the improvements. I still think he'll like it. He was very funny when I asked him to help pick out fabrics for a mystery project. He didn't like picking fabrics without knowing how they would be used. And then I insisted on including a mouse print (the animal) I had, which also confused him. Tonight all will become clear, I hope. I'll need to make strudel, too.

Plenty of time, though. This weekend is the Seussical, and he won't be home before 8. He's the mayor of Whoville. And if you are wondering why the mouse pouch only got made this morning - it has to do with my being told on Saturday that he still hadn't brought in his black shorts for his costume. His black shorts? What black shorts? Steven! I managed to get a pattern and black cotton gaberdine before stores closed on Saturday, and he now has a very nice pair of black shorts. One of my next projects is to make him a second pair of shorts. I also bought navy gaberdine, but this pair I intend to spiffy up with a different fabric for the pockets and coloured top stitching. Watch this space!

BTW the sampler is making great progress.

Thursday, 8 March 2007

Hidden stitchery

One of the fun things for me is discovering needlework treasures where you don't expect them. Here in Vienna, if you go to the Schatzkammer, you know you'll get to see your fill of the Golden Fleece vestments. If you go to the KHM you can admire the way major painters interpreted the needlework that their sitters where wearing. The MAK has wonderful textiles on display. ... Yes, but when you go into the coal mine under the Technical Museum, you don't expect to have the long stretch of dark and claustrophobia rewarded by seeing a lovely sampler dedicated to St. Barbara. (Yes, It's lovely. No, I don't intend to ever visit it again.)

One of the other things I do is theology. Last night I attended a lecture at the Theological Courses of the Archdiocese of Vienna. (This is a wonderful organization that exists to train lay people. I learn Hebrew there, and enjoy the lecture series when my health allows.) The first question when arriving at the Kurhaus next to St. Steven's is where they have put the lecture. If lots of people are expected they use the big room right at the entrance. If fewer people are there, usually we are upstairs. This year the lift is being replaced, so that means climbing three flights of stairs, and like most old buildings in Vienna, the rooms all have high ceilings. It's a long climb. Last night we were in a smaller room, but on the ground floor. Missing the climb was enough reason to be pleased. But I'd been in that room before, and had nearly forgotten that an old antependium is hung in the corridor that leads to the room. Aaah!

Unfortunately there is no label, and I have not been able to find a date on the stitching. I would guess that it is about 100 years old. I would very much like to know more about it. I would also love a chance to get at it with needle and silk for long enough to stabilize some of the couching that is falling off. The rest of it is in very good condition. Also it is wonderful to be able to get really close without glass between me and the stitching.

The stitching is spectacular. The background is cream-coloured linen (? or cotton, but ecclesiastical things tend to use linen.) Some of the appliques are probably silk. The threads may be partly silk, but many are probably cotton. The parts I could study closely (the bottom fourth) used some goldwork techniques, but I don't remember seeing metallic threads.) Although the drawing is good, and the way the draperies are indicated is amazing, I am not impressed by the design of the whole. However, these things can look very different from a distance, and an antependium (altar frontal) can't be judged as close up as you are in a hallway.

The major figures are appliqued (after being embroidered?) There are also thickly stitched medallions that I would also assume were applied after stitching. Other stitching is done directly onto the background.

Most of the stitching is chain stitch, which changes to split stitch where a thinner line is needed. There is also a lot of couching, especially around the edges of appliques. Some areas have laid fillings. I think it must have been framed up before stitching and never removed from the frame. That's a favorite way of working these things, and I wouldn't dare move something with such long unsecured laid stitches off frame.

There are two towers stitched straight onto the background in very fine grey lines - they look like pencil drawings. They are too high for me to really examine the stitches, but they are tiny - under 2mm - and exquisitly accurate. If this is double running it is a lot neater than I can do it. (Never mind the stitch size which also boggles my mind.) However, backstitch would make the 'holes' more visible. And not split stitch either. I would like to get in there with a camera and take a picture just of one of the towers and try to copy it. But I'm not going to let my stitching be compared to whoever did this! I would use whipped backstitch with one strand to try and get the feel of pencil drawing.

Questions I would like to be able to answer:
  • Was all the stitching done for this frontal, or where pieces taken off of previous pieces?
  • Were the towers done by a different stitcher from the rest of the work? How many stitchers in all?
  • Were the individual drawings done by different artist(s) than the total design?
You will have guessed by now that I don't get a feeling that it all fits together very well. My imagination has a needlewoman being handed a framed up frontal, a stack of bits and pieces from a stash and asked to create a frontal out of them. All the pieces are wonderful and I enoy visiting it.

Tuesday, 6 March 2007

Week 10 Project 7 Bookmark 2

My black and red sampler has taken on a life of its own, and I had nearly forgotten that the whole point was supposed to be to have a place to try out the original colour schemes of historical patterns that I was modernizing.

I had to buy more of the red thread I am using, and saw narrow linen band in the shop, so I stopped work on the sampler long enough to make a bookmark from one of the patterns I am planning on using there soon. Even on the sampler I am planning to switch the colours - I am trying to keep to twice as much black as red. Since I am doing the alphabets in red, the other bands need to be mostly black. For the bookmark I have not only chosen very different colours, but also changed the way they are distributed.

This pattern is taken from 'Stickmusterschatz' by Irmgard Gierls (Part 2, p. 69). She says that it is taken from clothing on a painting by one of the old German Masters. The first thread is an overdyed floss by Needle Necessities (196). I had some problem deciding which thread to use for the contrast. I settled on Anchor 897. I'm quite happy with the result. I'll try to remember to show you the 'same' band from the sampler once I have stitched it. Originally the large diamonds, their decorations and the baselines near them are red. The centres there, the small diamonds and the swirls off them are black.

I have now designed my own Greek alphabet for the sampler. I found a nice Russian one online, and have given up on the idea of Hindi - There are just way too many letters. Anyway, It's coming along quite nicely. Actually it's getting a bit too big for my scanner already. Below the narrow band that you can barely see part of I have also started the next alphabet: that is a wide band in Assisi work with nice borders either side of the alphabet in negative.