Unbelievably busy!

It just can’t possibly be September yet! The summer has flown by and I’ve gotten some, but not a lot, of embroidery time.

We had family for just under a month staying with us from all over and loved every minute! I got some stitching done and finished a project I’m teaching to the lovely members of the Quinsippi EGA in Quincy, Illinois at the end of September.

This is a new crewelwork piece I designed just for them called “The Queen’s Pomegranate”. It was inspired by the emblem of Catherine of Aragon, Henry VIII’s first wife.

The design changed some as I worked up the model. I was really unhappy with how the lower leaves looked when I stitched them as illustrated in the drawing, above. My initial idea was to have satin stitch on the bottom half and seeding on the top half but that was a non-starter right away. Not enough color or texture in relation to the rest of the piece.

The next rendition of the lower leaves was to use the same techniques I’d used in the crown – namely stem stitch and French knots. That REALLY didn’t look good – too busy!

I let the first stem stitch/French knot sit while I worked on the turned over leaf which I decided to work in long and short shading. When it was finished, I was very happy!

As it turned out, shading was the perfect answer. Everyone who’s seen the pomegranate comments first on the shading – ‘Ooohhh, I love those leaves!”. Obviously it works!

Along with embroidering the model, I’ve been working hard with my graphic designer on upgrading my kits. I am so excited to show you what the completed kits will look like! However, I’m going to let the members of the Quinsippi EGA Chapter see them first. The one thing I’m most proud of is that the kits will not contain disposable plastic.

If you belong to a group who would be interested in having me come to teach, just let me know via email at kathy “at” theunbrokenthread.com. I’d love to hear from you!

Nelson Museum of the West; textile ornamentation

You can imagine my delight on the third day of our four week trip we visited a museum that had ornamented textiles in the collection! I had no expectation of seeing any embroidery other than the “I, Bathya” sampler during the workshop at The Attic in Mesa, AZ, with Nicola Parkman. We were traveling to rest and renew. Whatever came our way would be interesting and we had few definite plans. Don’t you love it when something delightful happens unexpectedly?

The Nelson Museum of the West is in Cheyenne, Wyoming. Firstly, we loved Cheyenne! The people are friendly and the town itself is charming. On the last morning we were there, we visited the museum, hoping to learn more about Native American culture and the settlement of the western part of the USA.

The Nelson Museum of the west is a private museum. To quote from its website:

“The collection itself was designed by our Founder Robert L. Nelson to show visitors a broad spectrum of our older western cultures.  Cowboy, Charro, Art, Native American and Military aspects of the west were carefully studied and needed artifacts put on a list for acquisition. The collection grew through the 1970s, 1980s and in 1998, the museum was opened to the public. Many Collections are very deep. Our collection is very wide!  Each spur, saddle, firearm and artifact was added to the collection for a purpose. Each was added to make the story more complete. At this writing and including the 4000 book library, the collection totals over 14,000 items.”

We didn’t know what to expect, but had heard that the collection was special. We weren’t disappointed! Of course, my favourite exhibits were of ornamented pieces of clothing. The first exhibit in a large, well lit glass case included a display of quillwork done by people from the Plains tribes, many done by the Sioux.

I was struck by how similar the motifs on the vest, above, are to embroidery found on vests and coats from Europe! Flowers, leaves and vines in beautiful colors adorn this vest.

Close up of quillwork vest

Here’s another vest with different designs and colors.

Another Santee Sioux vest

I know absolutely nothing about how to do quillwork. Naturally, I looked it up and found numerous articles about the technique, the meaning of the motifs, how to process and dye the quills…the information is endless.

This technique is unique to North America, so far as I could discover. Porcupine quills are used and the work was often done on rawhide, as you see on the vests, above. Apparently, it could take up to a year to finish a complex piece.

Many of the sites with information also sell quillwork. Here is one site that has good information with minimal advertising: Quillwork: A Vanishing Native American Art

When commercial beads became widely available, Native Americans stopped using quills and began to use beads. The designs can be similar but the time involved to produce a beaded piece is far less than for a quill worked piece.

The saddlebag, below, is heavily beaded on rawhide. Notice that the designs of both quillwork and beading could be worked in satin stitch. If one imagines each row of beads or quills as satin stitch, it’s easy to see how these designs could be worked with thread on fabric.

One of my favourite pieces of beading was the little doll, below.

In addition to the Native American pieces, there was one piece from Mexico that caught my eye.

In one display case full of Mexican artefacts, I spied this beautiful sombrero covered in goldwork and “jewels”.

The workmanship is just fantastic! Note how beautifully every single piece of gold thread lies flat against the felt of the hat.

Just imagine how it must have shown and sparkled in the clear, bright sunlight!

How lucky to have found such beautiful pieces by accident! Have you ever come across something you didn’t expect in the textile work, in a place you didn’t imagine you would find it? Share your experiences with us in the comments below!

I, Bathya (and our travels)

There’s so much to write about I’m not sure where to begin! Let’s start with the most recent events and then go back in time.

On Saturday and Sunday, June 8 and 9, I was fortunate enough to attend the workshop taught by Nicola Parkman on the I,Bathya sampler.  As you all know, I’ve only taken one class from the delightful Amy Mitten and worked a small bit of that sampler, so I am in NO way an expert.

I, Bathya Sampler

This workshop enticed me because Bathya stitched her sampler to be reversible. Years ago I purchased a German sampler from a reputable auction house in Germany and, when it arrived and I took it out of the frame, I discovered it was reversible. Ever since then I’ve been fascinated with how these samplers were stitched. When the chance to learn how to do this came up, I didn’t hesitate to sign up!

The Attic Needlework Shop

The workshop was sponsored by The Attic Needlework shop in Mesa, Arizona. The owner of The Attic, Jean Lea, is another one of those special people you meet in the needlework world. Her love of needlework and her customers is apparent in everything she did for us.

Nicola is a wonderful, talented teacher. She has multiple ways of explaining things so that everyone in the class can understand. I even watched her “walk out” the direction of stitching which was really helpful! She was always available to cheerfully help students during lunch time and after class. 

Nicola generously asked me if I wanted to do a short video with her about classes I’ll now be teaching in the fall. Here is a link to that video. What an honor!

Of course, what’s always the most fun in any class, is meeting all the people who are attending class with you. The group of women in our class were so friendly, helpful and funny! The room was often filled with conversation and laughter. If I needed help, I could ask one of my fellow students and they gladly stopped their own work to help. We are so lucky to be part of this thoughtful, giving community!

When doing crewelwork, silk shading, goldwork, or canvas work, I don’t usually think about what it looks like on the back side of the fabric. My threads rarely “travel” and I make the end of a thread as neat as possible, but I certainly don’t try to make the back look as finished as the front. However, that’s exactly what Bathya and many other girls did as a matter of course. 

Front of the spot sampler we worked on during class – this is Nicola’s completed one.

Band samplers were worked as an aid memoir, so when it came time to embroider for example, a ruffled sleeve cuff, the pattern was recorded on the band sampler. The embroidery on the cuff would have been viewed from both sides, hence the need for it to be reversible.

Reverse of Nicola’s spot sampler

It’s a fun brain challenge to think about what is being created on the back side as you’re stitching on the front side. I found I developed the ability to “see through” the fabric. 

Working out stitch path…

The most important skill to develop, and one I’m still working on, is planning out your stitch pathway. If you don’t pre-plan, you’ll find yourself  stuck, unable to continue embroidering reversible stitches.

In the class we spent a lot of time with graph paper and pencils thinking through and experimenting with the path our needle would take. The doodle cloth was our way of trying out our path with needle and thread on fabric. We were encouraged not to take out a mistake, but instead, to make a note of what went wrong in our stitch journal so we could refer to it later. 

It will be a little while before I’m ready to begin I, Bathya, but I know when I do begin, I’m prepared!

For those of you who want more information, here is a link to a video with Nicola and Gary Parr talking about I, Bathya. I understand the sampler will be released in the next year, so be sure to check the Hands Across the Sea web site!

Have you embroidered anything that’s reversible? Any tips for us you’d like to share? Please leave a comment below!

Mesa was one stop on what has been an astounding 4 week road trip. We traveled west from Iowa, then up to northern California, then down to Mesa and back home to Iowa.  We saw national parks, historic sites, museums, forests, mountains, and deserts. We met only warm, friendly people along the way. Most importantly, this road trip was a time for my husband and I to reconnect, relax and reflect on what this year has brought us and how well we’ve done through all of it. 

Relaxing at La Posada in Winslow, AZ

We arrive home on Friday of this week and that’s when I’ll be putting together a schedule of classes for the fall. I do hope you’ll join us in Ames, Iowa!

Next time I’ll write about a museum where I saw Native American quill work, bead work and Spanish goldwork.