Sunday, January 7, 2018

The Reason for Weaving

Women have been spinning and weaving for many, many millennia. Weaving for clothing, for sails,for bedding, for sacks to carry things...the reasons for weaving are multitude. The cloth that is made does not need to be beautiful to fulfill its purpose. But I think that artistry is a basic human need. Whether one thinks of the plaid skirt worn by the Huldremose bog woman, or the elaborate brocaded silks worn by Elizabethans; Navajo rugs, or the intricate patterns created by Peruvian backstrap weavers, it is clear that weavers have always planned to make their work beautiful.

While wandering through the Metropolitan Museum last month, I came upon an exhibit of utilitarian articles made by nomadic tribes from the area around Iran, Turkey, and Azerbaijan. Every piece had a very ordinary purpose - to carry their belongings from place to place. But the pieces were anything but ordinary. The weaving technique for each piece was chosen to suit the need of the object it would carry. Most of the pieces were executed in the sumak technique. This means that an extra weft thread was wrapped around the warp threads - over two threads, then back around one, or over four, back around two. This adds strength, makes a very dense fabric (needed when you are carrying things like salt or flour), and creates a beautiful pattern. Sometimes pile was added, to make the fabric even denser. Here are some of my favorite pieces:

 I'll start with the spindle bag (western Iran, Bakhtiari tribe, ca. 1935), because of course the women need a way to carry their spindles so they can make the thread they need to weave. The fabric is sumak weave, with pile added at the bottom where it would have the most wear. 

Here is a bag to carry salt (ca. 1920):
 again, with pile incorporated at the bottom.

A double flour bag (last quarter 19th century):
 This is quite large. I like the stylized animals. 

Even larger, this container was used to carry bedding (Azerbaijan, ca. 1825-75): 

And finally, a saddle bag (Shahsevan tribe, ca. 1875). The pattern seems so similar
 to a quilt pattern. 

I enjoy tapestry weaving. I think I will try my hand at sumak weaving this year. Perhaps I'll make my own spindle bag.

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Goldwork Embroidery

I promise I will get to the post about the utilitarian weaving that we saw at the Met. But, I've been thinking about embroidery lately, and I want to show you a beautiful medieval embroidery from the Cloisters.
 Netherlandish, mid-15th century

Originally part of a vestment or altar cloth, it is done in the or nue technique. Unlike most goldwork that I have seen, where the background is couched gold thread and the figures are silk, this piece is almost entirely gold. Only the faces and hair are silk embroidery. The rest of the picture, except for a few details, is formed by altering the spacing of the silk couching threads. The closer together they are, the more the color shows up, but always the gold shines through.

Isn't it exquisite?

Monday, December 25, 2017

Merry Christmas to All!

and many blessings for the new year.

This Book of Hours, by Simon Bening, 1530-35 (at the Cloisters), is so tiny it would fit in the palm of your hand. 

This year we were blessed with a white Christmas. Some people don't like that, but I still love waking up to snow.

I finished my Christmas knitting and nalbinding just in time. Once again, I forgot to take pictures. But everyone seemed to like what I made for them, and that is what really counts.

Saturday, December 23, 2017

A comparison of chess piece design

We made our annual trip to New York City for the Christmas holiday. While there we made a quick visit to the Cloisters, where they had an exhibit of chess pieces. It reminded me of visiting the Lewis chessmen at the British Museum earlier this year. Here is a comparison of rooks. Both are Scandinavian, but I believe the one from the Cloisters is slightly later.

12th century, at the Cloisters
                                                                                        mid 12th century, at the British Museum 

Here are queens, both Scandinavian:
from the 13th century, surrounded by her entourage. She does not look worried, like the Lewis queen.

And here are the knights:

 England, c. 1350

Next time I'll tell you about the weaving exhibit we saw at the Met.                                                       

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Beginning Nalbinding

Earlier this month I taught a beginner nalbinding class at a local library. I taught the easiest stitch I know - York - so that students would be able to leave class being confident enough in their new skills to make a holiday gift. In two weeks I'm teaching the second class - nalbinding mittens. Students will learn increasing and decreasing, and tricks for making the thumb without leaving little holes. There are several ways to do this. I arrived at my favorite after examining many artifact mittens. That's the version I will teach. I'll also show students alternate methods, because just because it is my favorite, doesn't mean it will be yours. If you don't think you would like mittens, never fear - the same techniques work for making gloves.

So, if you know a nalbinding stitch and would like help with mittens or gloves, stop by the East Greenbush Library at 1:00 on December 9. Directions for the classes are posted here in the class handouts.

Sunday, July 2, 2017

merry England

We were in England (mostly London) for a week. Just enough to whet the appetite, barely time to scratch the surface of the things to see and do. Our first day we stretched our legs after the long and lovely train ride from Glasgow. We enjoyed St. James's Park,
walked around Westminster, across the bridge, along the river to the next bridge, up to Trafalger Square,
and eventually back to the hotel.

The next day it was off to the British Museum, where I fell in love with the Lewis Chessmen. Yes, I've seen photos and reproductions. That is nothing compared to standing in front of the real thing.

 What I didn't appreciate until I saw them in person is that every one of them is completely unique, and they all have personality.

Shears (50BC-50AD) from Hertford Heath

Another highlight of the trip was seeing a play at the Globe. We saw Twelfth Night
And equally wonderful was the view that greeted us as we left the theater. 

Friday we were off to Westminster Abbey and the V & A. I would have liked to spend all day in the V & A, but I am happy with the time we got. I spent quite a long time with "my" beloved Coptic socks (Egypt 300-500). We practically had the gallery to ourselves.
This is nalbinding, not knitting.

I also drooled over the Tristan and Isolde quilt (Florence c. 1360-1400). I love the fish and faces.

And that was just the tip of the iceberg of wonderful things to discover:


The next day we climbed to the top of St. Paul's Cathedral (520+ steps), and were rewarded with spectacular views and a serenade by the bells.

You can see the Tower of London and Tower Bridge in this photo. The trip was certainly over long before we ran out of things to explore.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

travel adventures

We are back from a lovely vacation in Scotland and England. What beautiful countries, and friendly people! Of course I made a point of visiting as many museums as possible. In Glasgow we were lucky enough to take a behind the scenes tour of the Burrell stained glass collection. The museum is currently closed for renovation, so they are using the opportunity to conserve and photograph their medieval glass. We got up close to see the lead came, the silver staining, how "jewels" were added, and 19th century repairs. Fascinating! Here are a few pictures:

Examining windows with and without light. The red leaf is from the 19th century. The red and blue "jewels" are 15th century originals. They added them by cutting holes in the center of the receiving piece of glass. I wonder how many pieces were broken in the process?

 German, late 15th century
Don't you love the faces?                                                                                                                                                                                             German, 1443

 French, circa 1280

some details 
 This 16th c. English piece includes chased glass.

French, c. 1520 
Don't forget to take your shoes off when you are going in the river to be baptized!

The oldest pieces in the collection, from St. Denis, France

We were in town for an architectural history conference, so we visited quite a few buildings from many different times. Here are a few highlights:

  Macintosh's Willow Tea Rooms (a reproduction, but beautiful none the less)

 19th century City Hall

  13th century Bothwell Castle

And just so you don't think it was all work and no play, the food was delicious.


 Babbity Bowster, a very old pub.

Then, it was on to England...