Saturday, 24 July 2010

Detached Buttonhole Faces

A final word on my (long) post about DBH circle shaping

I hope like me, you derived some useful insight from that jumbo 2-part post and all the links included therein. 

I would just like to clarify that the collection of stuff included in Part II primarily dealt with flat and loosely worked Uncorded Detached Buttonhole and only related to DBH in so far as the expanding net idea.  

You’ll also be pleased to know that for the purposes of Elizabethan embroidery, you don’t really need to go into all that complicated stuff, as they tended to use the more stable needle lace stitches, and simply take the succinct advice I received from the author of stitchingwithkittens where she very kindly summed it all up by saying:

“Either way works but if you have gaps at the margins of your DBH stitching, that means you are not pulling the thread tightly enough OR that your thread is too thin for the fabric”. 

She also added to:

“view DBH as a grid”……

(If you haven’t already done so, you should wander over to that blog and look at the quality of her stitching in close-up…)


And there you have it, sometimes you’ll hear something that makes you think about a certain thing again in a whole new light – so with that clearer way of looking at DBH I decided to revisit the specialist blog Italian Needlework and obtained kind permission to show you a gorgeous example of a particular type of DBH lacework called Aemilia Ars:


Aemilis Ars

This is an example of Renaissance Aemilia Ars needle lace.  I’m sure you’ll agree, its an amazing piece of work and pushes the virtuosity of DBH to new limits. 

Surprisingly few stitches go into making up this complex design and if you really study it, you can see its not actually that complicated. 

What’s especially interesting about Aemilia Ars is the way they lay the foundation cordonnet.  For this they use a simple loose whipping stitch over a backstitch which is comparatively flexible and is further enhanced by the addition of a series of  special tensioning ‘spokes’ that enable you to create naturalistic curves as well as sharp points and even right angles. 

What all this has to do with me

So, as a way of testing out my new-found-‘flat’ DBH clarity of purpose, I’ve set myself the challenge of making this doily. (I call it a doily because I’m going to stick it on my dressing table eventually.) 


From the photograph you can tell that in Renaissance times they used quite a fine thread and of course a large part of the fascination is how small they managed to make this design.  I’m not, however, considering miniature this time round, as I have quite enough problems with scale in relation to my main project. 

Instead I’ve chosen to use the modern, readily available medium weight crochet thread.  I think I will learn a lot from setting myself this task and regard it as a worthwhile precursor.  As it happens, I don’t have any books on Aemilia Ars but coincidentally I came across the wonderful work of a fellow member of a forum I belong to.

Patricia Girolami

Before I continue I should explain, Aemilia Ars lace has always been shrouded in mystery but it just so happens I recently came across the work of Patricia Girolami who makes Aemilia Ars lace.  Patricia is a British lady living in Italy who is also a graduate of the Royal School of Needlework and now teaches Aemilia Ars.  She has kindly posted a fascinating set of sequential photographs on how to work typical Aemilia Ars techniques. 

She is also about to publish a book on this art form stemming from her dedication to uncovering its closely guarded working methods.  Like me, she feels keenly that we have a duty not to allow these historical, wonderfully creative ways with thread to die out. 

You can find Patricia Girolami’s work here, if you scroll down the page and look at her photos you can find the Aemilia Ars ‘how-to’ sequence.   

More Links to Aemilia Ars

If you would like to see more examples of Aemilia Ars you can also take a wander over to The Textile Blog, where you can see lots of examples of Historic designs.  I think you’ll agree with me, its proof that with ubiquitous DBH, really ‘anything goes’….


Repro Working of the Profile view of an Aemilia Ars Lady

So, down to work:


Above is my first toe-in-the-water type sketch.  Getting to know the main contours and the unusual profile.

6   What really struck me about this face is not so much that it’s done in DBH, but if you look closely you can see that the lines of stitching follow the contours of the face.  This idea is what attracted me most, because the stitching becomes similar to direct ‘drawing’…


Above is my stitch plan.

I realised after making 2 smaller attempts, that I would need to make the design much larger as my thread is comparatively chunky, so I made a print of the image and did a simple tracing.

The hair looks massively complicated but actually its not (famous last words..).  I’ve done that stitch before, its a very stable knotted back and forth commonly used in Elizabethan embroidery and all those sticky-up bits are basically whipped cords (more about that later) and buttonholing over 2 laid threads.  Again, the needle lace stitching of the windswept hair follows the meandering contours. 


Here you can see my trusty paper template idea over the image to check everything.  It looks nice e.g. I’ve preserved the prettiness of the face but I found out later that you cannot sew directly from that shape. 

It needs to be exaggerated first, so that you don’t lose the important definitions when it comes to the final stage of buttonholing the edges and then (hopefully) everything shrinks back into place.


Here I’m checking the hair and the junction where both sections overlap. 

I’ve decided to make this piece in 2 sections and stitch them together from behind because I think that’s how it was originally made (?) and if it wasn’t, then I know my limitations…


Whipped Cordonnet

Here’s the ‘flexible’ whipped ‘cordonnet’ on my ‘cartonne’ (cardboard).  You need to make the holes first, by working straight down with the needle, use a thimble and protect your work surface.  Then you backstitch the whole thing. 

Next, with a single long length of thread you whip the whole lot.  When you reach the spokes, you need to do something slightly different by just hooking the thread round them, using them as anchors.  Notice the smooth curve of the chin that you can achieve using this system. 

The spokes used to tension the corners of the lips and nose, are added last of all.  Notice I have not tensioned the very tip of the nose but rather the lower edge.  Refer to the original image to see why I did this. 

The ‘flexible’ aspect of this foundation thread is very important when you come to do things like stitch the nose, because as you can see further along, when the rows of stitching that makes up the nose meets the corner of the eye, the thing pulls together so you achieve the vital contour of the bridge of the nose.


Because the first one I made was so unsatisfactory, I felt I had to keep re-checking all the angles and relationships of the features very much as you would a drawn portrait.

Oh, I should mention, I now realise that I’ll be able to replicate this procedure on the Repro Bag, as I found out when I went to visit Bill Barnes, that the Museum’s website image – that’s the one available for all to see at the publically accessible website (the link is at the side here) - can be printed out and it emerges pretty well life sized!


Above you can see off I go and Thankfully, the nose now has a bridge!

When I first started stitching, I began from the opposite end but quickly realised the lines of stitching would never behave as I needed them to round the eyes etc.  So this time I started from the top left hand corner of the forehead and watched very carefully where I was supposed to go next by following the line map of DBH.  

The eye as you can see, is very large.  I worked out that it would need to be so,  in order for the final eye to be the right size, as that too will shrink back with the whipped edges. 

It was so revealing to follow the line map of DBH like a little maze, as only then did I really understand all the choices the stitcher had made to suggest the modelling of the face.


Now on this image you can see things start to get interesting. 

I needed to come down to the bottom edge of the top lip in order to join the lip to the nose, instead of gradually working my way down.  The reason for this is you want clean inside right angles, as well as outside. 

If you look closely you can see, I’m about to go under the cordonnet, then simultaneously under the return row, which is wrapped round the side, at right angles, in order to catch the apex of the top lip. 

I knew I could do this from my earlier experiments with 3-d type DBH.  This manoeuvre is a very significant one because it means you can extend DBH outwards, anywhere, anytime, flat or 3-d!

This is what I really love about Aemilia Ars, because you can create good straight edges as well as curves,  you can probably stitch virtually anything you can draw… exciting is that !


Here I’m well into the top lip by now.  It looks too big for sure but the end result will be much reduced after the buttonholed edge is applied over 2 laid threads….


On this row, above, you can see that soon I’m going to need to make several stitches into the lower eye lid in order to join up with the next row of stitching.  This looks wrong but if you look at the original image you can see this is exactly what they’ve done.  It means you get to very cleverly suggest an eye socket, as opposed to just a hole for an eye, e.g. you suggest the contour of the top of a cheek bone at work underneath!  


Just to check that its going OK and that it looks like a lady…



Have a great weekend!

g2g cya !


Tuesday, 13 July 2010

Kentwell Hall, Suffolk & Fingerloop Braiding

Oh Gosh it’s so hot and I’m terribly behind with everything…  Between the day job, La Familia, La Casa y El Jardin my head is spinning….

To digress a little from what I’ve been looking at for the last couple of weeks, I’ve been on a few what you might call, field trips:

1.  To visit The V&A

2.  To meet with Bill Barnes of Golden Threads

3.  To Kentwell Hall’s Tudor Re-Enactment Festival.

This post is purely about Kentwell Hall Tudor Re-Creation Festival in Suffolk.


Well I dragged my DH along (under duress) the day after their Great Day, when up to 4oo Tudors from around the country walk, ride, dance, craft and eat about the place.  On the Sunday we were there, there were only about 150 Tudors left.  


If I can explain, the owners of the house are themselves Tudor re-enactment buffs and have faithfully restored the fine building and outhouses.  The house is stuffed with original features and all the rooms, that we saw, are exactly as they had been 500 years ago, can you believe that!  It was really quite eerie how time has stood still in this corner of the Suffolk countryside.  

We managed to get a little lost on the way there, that is surprising as its really quite straightforward to reach.  So we arrived after lunch, which was a shame because they’d all had a marvellous open air feast - as we found out later on from the Potager cook who we bumped into as he was playing his hurdy-gurdy under a tree. 

First things first, after buying our tickets (not cheap but worth it as the house was the genuine article) we were directed towards the ‘Time Tunnel’ from which we were told we would emerge 500 years back in Tudor Times.  The tunnel was really dark and I tripped, nothing to do with the flooring, but a lot to do with my heels,  so as a ‘psychological journey’, I hadn’t managed to really concentrate. 

When we came out the other side we could see an amazing house with its grand mullions and beckoning quadrangle, surrounded on its approach by various little cream ‘tents’ for want of a better word.  The first of which housed Braid Makers and of course, you know that that was my main reason for driving the 65 miles!

As we made our way across the lawns towards the Braiders, we were greeted by a man in a doublet with very red cheeks who said ‘Good day to you Mistress, fayre thee well’ and nodded….DH replied ‘Good day’.  I turned to DH and realised he had read the programme in the time it had taken me to change my shoes and find my way out of the Time Tunnel and he was already speaking the lingo.  Meanwhile I was taken aback by the Olde English greeting and found myself tongue-tied with the beginnings of an existential crisis (who am I, who would I have been back then, would I have been a bare-footed character? - my toes recoiled at the imagined physical threat)..


Their costumes were amazing, hair in white coifs, lots of cleavage spilling out (I looked across at DH who didn’t look so bored after all !!!).  Immediately I was given a one-to-one tutorial on how to make a multi coloured flat braid on a medium sized wooden loom.  I enjoyed watching the process very much but my attention was really on the Mistress rocking back and forth next to a tree watching us, who happened to be working THE LONG AWAITED FINGERLOOP BRAID!

Between them they explained that there are about 40 different patterns for braids.  They went on to say that whether you’re making a flat braid or a cord, you need to make the WHOLE thing in one sitting as the tension can never be precisely replicated (!).

I watched the fingerloop braid being worked for about 10 minutes and I’m pleased to say that it brought to life all the illustrations I had seen and I could tell it was actually quite straightforward but like all things that are done really well, they look so easy; until you try them yourself…

I was also able to clear-up my own confusion as to whether to make the cords on the repro bag in Lucet cord or fingerloop.  It was explained to me that although Lucet cords can be as long as the ball of yarn, the Fingerloop braid can only be a set length.  They explained that for lots of different colours to be included in one cord, you need to work Fingerloop cords and not Lucet.  The Bag itself has 8 colour change cords if you recall.  So that means only my thumbs will be free…

The house was really amazing and as I said, it’s virtually intact.  I have never seen a house with so many Tudor details, I’d only seen castles.   There are heaps of Tudor houses that have faithful exteriors but unfortunately they tend to have undergone drastic Victorian makeovers, as they did with the churches then.   This one had somehow resisted that imposition. 

While we were speaking to the Master of the house, who was sitting at a long oak table with his DW and DD greeting visitors, I actually managed to turn away briefly and deftly tilt the outer edge an historic embroidered bed hanging into the direction of the light for a tiny moment in order to examine more closely the methods they had used for edging the motifs.

This bed hanging was similar to those I had seen at the V&A recently, that are covered  in needlepoint ‘slips’, the designs of which had been taken from that famous book of herbals that we read about so often. 

I probably wasn’t meant to touch it but I just couldn’t resist as I’d seen lots of these embroidered slips at The V&A and I couldn’t quite make out how they had edged the canvas plant motifs down so cleverly without a single canvas thread poking out and maintained realistic curved shaping.  At the V&A I could see the stitches they had used were so minute that and they must have been executed with an eye-glass as they were virtually invisible to the naked eye. 

These  slips, aka Appliqued motifs,  are so beautiful when stitched onto crushed velvet but on this particular example of a bed hanging, the slips were stitched onto plain neutral coloured linen.  The V&A slips were finished off by laying down a cord around the outer edge and couching it very carefully with silver thread using satin stitch.  The slip I handled was couched with a black fine twisted silk cord that was left black.  The work was on a par with what I had seen at the V&A in terms of minute stitching, except no silver had been added.   

We learned that the long bed hanging had recently been brought downstairs for airing as the insects had been trying to get at it. 

This led on to them explaining that for instance, in order to eliminate lice, one has to hang clothes in The Jacks (lavatories) as the ammonia in the atmosphere there discourages lice. 

While in the same reception room, I also managed to surreptitiously let my finger run underneath the outer edge an ancient chainmaille vest – ooh!  It was incomplete but extremely stained and worn.  I was transported by that experience, I can tell you, it was incredibly weighty. 

We saw the Still and spoke to the apothecary (?) person who was pounding herbs and generously offered us a rhubarb concoction for Summer intestinal discomforts ! 

We also tried some rather flat ale from the Brew House and walked in the herb garden and heard a lot of good humoured Elizabethan vocabulary in regard to the battle of the sexes and how to ‘run your house’. 

The sewing room, which is in the Moat House that you get to once you pass the Dovecote, has a gorgeous large window for working at but the embroidery there was not as exciting as I would have liked.  They were mainly using Tent Stitch and there was no gold in sight, but for a tiny piece of gold highlighting pinned to the wall.  They explained that they were replicating the designs from a Cathedral in Norfolk at the time.  I didn’t quite feel able to talk about myself or my little bag, as I felt too awestruck by the whole time-warp factor.  The room was very tranquil however, as was the low level moat walk, nearby. 

The thing that made the profoundest impression on me was the floor of the Brew House.  I noticed it immediately as it was so uneven and yet very solid.  I looked down and could see it too was an original feature.  I was honestly transported in time walking on that ancient floor.  (If you can imagine a sort of indoor cobbled street idea.  There aren’t may cobbled streets left in London, the last truly old one I saw was in Edinburgh.)  The window was wide open on the dark cavernous room with its musty smell of old casks and fermentation.  I became motionless and let myself drift off, imagining all the many pairs of feet  from olden days walking across those proud elongated Tudor brick tiles and just kept thinking that the floor had felt the weight of so many generations of now dead people who had served the house, it was almost as if I could still, just about, hear their distant chattering…