Archive for May, 2008

Or nué (literally gold shaded) is a kind of goldwork perfected in the 15th century in Europe. Strands of Japanese gold or other gold threads are couched down with different colors of thread to create the image. As I was stitching this piece, I had about half a dozen needles threaded with the different colors of silk thread and parked at the bottom of the framed fabric. The background is couched with gold silk thread. Since I document everything I make, I can’t believe I have no pictures of this work in progress, but I haven’t found them.

The design is by Kay Stanis and I stitched it as a practice piece in 2004. It turned out well enough to give as a gift to my daughter-in-love Nan, who e-mailed me this photograph. Below is just a scan of the only print copy I have of the piece.

My work is an example of very simple or nué done by a beginner. Now here is the kind of work done by professional artisans in the Middle Ages. The design was often painted on the background by prominent painters. This detail is from a very large, magnificent ecclesiastical vestment. It will give you some idea of the sophisticated shading that can be achieved by couching over the gold threads that gleam beneath the colors.

You can see more and better examples from this extraordinary work here. It is worth clicking on the images to see the enlargements.

I don’t think or nué is a technique I am likely to use again. You can read more about it here.


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It’s not as though I hadn’t done this technique before–putting felt over the string padding before attaching the gold purls. I discovered that the felt provided a firmer shape and sharper outline for stitching the gold when I made a wedding album for my son and his wife in 2003.

This was a practice cloth. I’ll show you the whole project another time.

Then, in 2005, when I made Matt’s graduation gift, I rediscovered the same technical aid.

Here you can see the yellow thread padding before I had covered it with gold felt. It worked much better that way.

But for some reason, I thought I could get away with just yarn padding this time, as shown in my goldwork books. Even when Barbara Curiel kindly suggested that I try felt padding, I still resisted the idea. Finally, yesterday, I gave in and started all over.

I transferred the letter S directly to the fabric patch, attached yarn (that I had dyed gold, by the way) to the letter shape, cut out an S from gold felt, and stitched it painstakingly over the yarn padding, resulting in a much sharper image.

Now I’m waiting for the gold supplies to arrive to test this approach.

See what I mean about how slowly I work? It is discouraging to be able to produce so little. I remind myself of the authors who wrote only one book, a very good one, in their writing lives. And then there is Joyce Carol Oates with her scores of books and story collections, not to mention reviews, and teaching! Well, that’s not me. I’m not expecting to produce a masterpiece, but I do want to do the best work of which I am capable.

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My posts about the counter-culture 19th and 20th centuries, have generated a few comments. (Go back and have a look at them.) Although I was not a hippie–too old and too achievement-oriented at the time, I did smoke marijuana. Here’s the evidence:

I even bought a pound of it from a friend in Berkeley and a carry-on bag in which to transport it, and, in my business suit, brought it back by plane to Baltimore.

It was never my drug of choice. It made me more introverted than ever and it gave me the munchies. Under the influence, I once ate most of a roast of beef. Gaining weight was not desirable! I preferred alcohol, which made me more gregarious and helped me socialize.

My sons smoked MJ and some still do. I think one of them used cocaine socially a while ago. Others have tried mushrooms and other psychotropic substances. In the 1960s a doctor friend of ours was in residence with Stanislav Grof, who was doing research with LSD. I could have tried it, but I was too afraid. Neither drugs nor alcohol have been a problem for any of us.

For me, the 1960s and 70s were joyous, exuberant times with incredible optimism about changing the world for the better. It was a time of enthusiastic spiritual exploration. I was involved in civil rights and anti-war demonstrations, but my main focus was on women and sexism. I wanted, first, to root out the internalized sexism in myself that made me believe males were superior to females. Well, in those days, only males held positions of authority and status, and I had been taught to defer to men. There were so few options for women outside the home. The want ads in the newspapers were segregated and the only jobs for women were factory worker, waitress, sales clerk, secretary, nurse, nanny, teacher, or domestic worker.

I was excited about opening up opportunities for women to become more self-actualized (through Affirmative Action programs) and about helping women take advantage of those opportunities (through consciousness-raising and training). I still believe the world will be a better place when women and the feminine point of view have more influence in every aspect of our society and culture. Of course men and women have both masculine and feminine qualities. We need to value and practice the feminine strengths more.

In Rwanda and other impoverished parts of the world, economies are thriving since women have gained access to the marketplace and to roles formerly reserved only for men.

The changes for women in the past 50 years are incredible.

How were you affected by the 1960s and 70s counter-culture? Probably many of you were not even born or grew up too late to have experienced them. After that period we went back to our usual lives of getting and spending.

And I should get back to the main purpose of this blog–my life in stitches. I made this crewel work in 1978 for my husband the bird-watcher. It was not my design but I did stitch it and frame it myself. If you click on the image, you can see it enlarged at Flickr.

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It was frivolous and flippant of me to compare the 19th century Transcendentalists and those influenced by their thought with hippies. Rather, they were the counter-culture of their day. Just as in the 1960s and 70s in the U.S., there were many varieties of expression of Transcendentalism among those who were part of or touched by that movement. In the 20th century counter-culture were some who just wanted to practice meditation and wish for peace on earth. Some, like hippies, wanted to adopt an alternative lifestyle such as communal living or self-sufficiency on the land. Others were activists–marching for civil rights, demonstrating against the Vietnam War, fighting for equal rights for women, campaigning for the preservation and restoration of our environment and ecology. What united the counter-culture of the 20th century was its anti-establishment, anti-authority attitude. Some wanted to drop out of the dominant culture, stop working in the mainstream economy, get high and enjoy life, while others struggled to change society.

The Transcendentalist movement was like that. There were many manifestations of its ideas, but, like our most recent cultural upheaval, it was primarily driven by challenges to the status quo in all areas of society. Some people, like Thoreau (for a while) just wanted to drop out. Emerson thought people should concentrate on their own self-development and society would progress and improve as a result of the advances in individuals.

The activists, however, fought first for changes in their churches and religious beliefs, then for the abolition of slavery, for labor rights, for amelioration of the economic, social, and political systems that caused poverty and kept people from rising out of poverty, and against corruption in high places–in business and government. They sought women’s rights, free public education, and prison reform. They protested the Mexican War. They adopted all kinds of counter-culture ideas and practices, such as vegetarianism, for goodness’ sake! And free sex!

The driving force behind the Transcendentalist counter-culture movement were the ideas about God of the first such thinkers. While some remained Christians, some remained ministers of churches, and others left organized religion altogether, they all rejected orthodoxy, the literal reading of the Bible, and traditional religious creeds and practices. As George Ripley, one of the chief leaders of the movement and founder of the communal living experiment, Brook Farm, explained:

“There is a class of persons who desire a reform in the prevailing philosophy of the day. These are called Transcendentalists,–because they believe in an order of truths which transcends the sphere of the external senses. Their leading idea is the supremacy of the mind over matter. Hence they maintain that the truth of religion does not depend on tradition, or on historical facts, but has an unerring witness in the soul. There is a light, they believe, which enlighteneth every man that cometh into the world…to perceive spiritual truth.”

For them, the source of ultimate authority was not a God “out there somewhere,” not the Bible, not the church, not the government, and not tradition or custom or “conventional wisdom.” It was the individual conscience. Or as Christians would say, “the Christ within.”

Everyone knows one of the most important ideas to come from the Transcendentalists, from Henry David Thoreau, who went to jail for refusing to pay the tax that supported the Mexican War– the idea of civil disobedience. Putting this idea into practice helped India gain its independence from Britain and it helped black people in this country gain equal rights.

I expect to finish reading American Transcendentalism today and then I’m going to work with Carole Samples’ templates for creating seam treatments.

I’ve long known that I need both stitching and study to be satisfied and content with my life, but last year I let stitching take over, take all my “active” time. The five-month long study of Blake, though I missed stitching for all that time, and this week’s immersion in a book, have reminded me that I need to have balance and include both study and stitching in my life. That’s hard, when I get so little done at all.

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I have re-learned a bit about handling these smooth purls, by practicing. And I have found that Sulky is not good with goldwork. It was very difficult to remove the Sulky, and even as slowly and carefully as I did it, some of the edges of the purls caught on the paper and were snagged out of shape as a result. For this motif, I will go back to my usual method of transferring a design to fabric, using transfer paper.

It’s not as though I haven’t done this work before, even though it’s been a few years since I stitched tiny purls over padding. Why I’m having so much trouble with this S is a mystery to me.

Yesterday I took the day off and just read ALL DAY–a most interesting book by Philip Gura, American Transcendentalism. Ah, that period of the mid-19th century is so evocative of the 1960s and 70s when some of us were going to transform America. We saw the Age of Aquarius approaching and knew that a new day was coming–the New Age. So did Emerson, Thoreau, Alcott, Hawthorne, Fuller, the members of the commune Brook Farm, and all the rest. Nineteenth century hippies. Even then, they were studying Eastern religions and philosophy. Women’s rights was a big issue. Equality of the sexes and changing marriage to be more liberating and especially less confining for women were major topics. Fascinating people. And what a pleasure to just immerse myself in a book all day long.

After the swimming event yesterday, there was an awards ceremony and eats (as always at Charlestown events). As you can see, we’re not just old people here. There are 2500 residents and 1300 staff of all ages, starting at age 16. Staff and visitors bring their kids. So we are a community of all generations.

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As I wait for delivery of the gold supplies I’ve ordered, I’ve been using materials at hand to try stitching the gold S correctly on a practice cloth. First, I used gold sadi. This purl is slightly larger than the gilt purl I plan to use.

This is better, but still not good enough. I haven’t yet worked out how to finish the ends. I wish I could show you how springy this metal thread is. It won’t lie straight so cutting equal lengths is, well, FRUSTRATING.

Next I tried stitching it with rough (matte) purl in the same size I want to use for the finished piece–very fine. It is even springier than sadi. Although threading purls on the needle is fiddly and slow, stitching them is no problem; it is cutting pieces the right length that is the challenge.

You can see that the lengths of purl are not all the right length and I still haven’t found the right way to stitch the ends.

I’ve been considering other materials, rather than gold purls, for stitching this S; but I really would like to get the effect of the real purls over padding. I don’t know whether I will succeed. Here’s how these two efforts look side-by-side. Better, but not good enough. Five hours of work.

I’ve also redesigned the S, as another possibility. When the new supplies arrive, I may know what I want to try with them.

As I’m writing, I’ve been hearing voices from our courtyard. Unable to resist my curiosity, I got up to take a look at what was going on. It’s the Mini-triathlon! Residents and staff have teamed up to compete in walking, swimming, and stationary biking. The swimming event is going on just below our windows in the Aquatic Center.

A loudspeaker and lots of cheering going on.

If you click on the image, you may be able to see that there are spectators around the pool, and on the patio a table is set with treats and perhaps trophies? Can’t tell from here.

It’s a windy day and the tablecloth is flapping. And lots of cheering.

Every day this week there have been special events celebrating Charlestown’s 25th anniversary. On Friday evening there was big-band dancing and entertainment under a tent, followed by fireworks. Spectacular, I’ve heard. (See, Jenna, we can do it, too.)

I enjoy living in such a lively, active community, even though I can’t participate.

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Hear ye! Hear ye! In case you haven’t already discovered it, Sharon Boggon has done it again. She has initiated yet another venue bringing together people who are interested in and/or making things with textiles and fibers and anything else that can be combined with textiles and fibers. You can visit and join this social network at Stitchin Fingers.

Already several special interest groups have been established and hundreds of members from around the world have joined.

Dear Readers, I hark back to William Blake. (I hope some of you have been interested enough to read my essay on why Blake is so important to me.) One of his mythological characters, Enitharmon, is a woman who weaves the fibers that produce the material world. (Sounds like quantum physics to me.) Her partner, Los, is imagination. Enitharmon gives form to what Los imagines. Together, these are the forces that create the universe we can perceive.

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