Monday, May 30, 2011

The Furies and The Forbidden Stitch

Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned. Where do we get this cliché? Well it relates to the Furies we are featuring in this installment of the Dark alphabet.  And who were the Furies?

In classical mythology the Furies were avenging deities, fearful goddesses from Tartarus who avenged wrong and punished crime. Usually the furies refer to three sisters, Alecto, Tisiphone, and Magaera  children of Gaia and Uranus.  They were placed in the Underworld by Virgil and it is there that they reside, tormenting evildoers and sinners. However, Greek poets saw them as pursuing sinners on Earth. The Furies are cruel, but are also renowned for being very fair.

The Forbidden Stitch, also known as the Pekinese Stitch and Blind Stitch, is a very old technique,  and was used by the Chinese as a filling stitch.  The stitch is so fine that it is said to have caused the embroiderer to go blind and for health reasons was forbidden.  Perhaps this is just a myth, but this is a fine stitch and with the poor lighting conditions it was difficult work even for younger eyes.  Another theory is that the "forbidden stitch" is that used to stitch motifs that only royalty were allowed to wear, so it was forbidden to common folk.  Other sources call the French Knot, or Peking Knot the Forbidden Stitch.  All agree it's a Chinese stitch and very fine work, but for our purposes, we are talking about the Pekinese Stitch or Blind Stitch as described by Eileen Bennett in her Red Book of Sampler Stitches.

This stitch is a good choice for areas that need delicate shading, as this can be worked in closely placed rows. To create this stitch, lines of backstitches are placed and then loops are laid over  the back stitches, but do not pierce the ground fabric. There are really good directions here.


Isn't she lovely?  I've started stitching the furies for my F is for Furies, because I wanted to try the Forbidden Stitch ----shhhhh.  Becky has really come up with a doozy for us - at first, I was going to make the ladies' dresses in the stitch, but I immediately discovered that you don't want to do that with close-worked dark thread, and you don't want to do that much of it to try it out, so I changed to the ladies' hands - which I thought kind of made them look like they had long, bony fingers (albeit only two per hand!).    Here's a close-up:

It looks a little like chain, and since I don't have young eyes, and it is very clearly stated that only young eyes can do it perfectly, I'm not worried that mine doesn't exactly look like the examples...  I think it looks creepy and that's all I'm going for!    If you aren't wanting to try the Forbidden Stitch, just use back stitches with two threads in your needle - the effect will still be long, bony fingers.  The Furies were reportedly blessed with bat-like wings and snakes in their hair.  It was really fun to imagine how they might look on a sampler!

I only have one Fury stitched so far, but I have been working away here and there on my alphabet - I now have A is for Apple, 

D is for Devil, which I showed you last week, and part of C is for Coven 

done besides my one lone Fury.  I will continue with my witches later today.

I have found that in some cases, I don't want such substantial coverage as a full cross stitch gives even with one thread on the 28 count, so I have done some of my motifs with tent stitch.  It sure goes a lot faster!  As always, click on the picture of the chart to be taken to the Freebies page where you will find a link to the Dark Alphabet, or click on the Freebies in the sidebar here.  Now, don't go stitching furiously!  


Monday, May 16, 2011

E is for Eek! and Ermine Stitch

You can see we're starting to zero in on some of our favorite motifs here - I seem to have crammed quite a few into our limited space!  And we're introducing a new stitch as well.  Again, just a very few stitches to let you try out something new.  Becky is the mastermind behind these stitches, and something tells me she has a doozy for us when we get to "F"!  

To find the chart, click on the picture, or go to the sidebar and click on Freebies - that will take you to our Freebie page which now lives on our website and has links to all the free charts and tutorials we've done here.

EEK - a very handy word, used when scared, in trouble, impatient, angry or just generally distressed!   'Eek' supposedly sounds like a mouse's cry, though I think it's more often sounded when a mouse is seen and not heard! 

Our special stitch this time is the Ermine Stitch - it's used just for the few tufts of grass in front of the gravestone.  Normally not a counted stitch, it's used as a filling stitch for lots of different embroidery. Used in a high-contrast setting, it resembles the ermine's winter coat, and of course, came into use as ermine fur began to be used for the finest garments. 

How to do the Ermine Stitch: A couple of examples for ways to create this stitch.

The Ermine in History

Throughout the Renaissance, the ermine was a very important symbol of purity. The ermine is depicted in heraldic symbols, royal gowns, and in significant portraits of the Renaissance. The ermine, classified as Mustela erminea, is of the weasel family, and is commonly found in Canada and Northern Europe. The ermine is known for its pure white fur with its noticeable black tip on its tail, which has been highly prized by trappers since the 16th century. Ermines are very small animals, only 6 to 12 inches from head to rump, with a long, bushy tail. It is the tail that is prized by traders to make coats, stoles, or robes for monarchs, clergy, and the extremely wealthy. Legend has it that the ermine, with its beautiful white coat, would die before soiling its fur, which idea has lent itself to the ermine as a symbol of purity and chastity. We can find numerous examples in art, literature, and heraldry of the ermine representing the purity that its white coat suggests. 

The above paragraph is just an excerpt from the following article that gives you some history on the Ermine, its importance in the Renaissance period and the symbolism which gave this stitch its name.

The following timeline outlines the historical use of ermine fur, stitched in fashion through history as opposed to the use of the stitch, but is interesting because the use and design of the fur relates to the Ermine Stitch.

I'm sorry this link is so long - if it is broken, you can copy and paste this one into your browser and get the same page, but it will not work as a direct link for me.

As promised, while I was away in Hawaii, I worked on my alphabet and have a couple of pictures to show you.  I started with D is for Devil, as I wanted to be able to show you the detached buttonhole section.  You'll see it's really a small bit, and just gives you a taste of the stitch.

I outlined the ball of wool at the top of the staff and worked my detached buttonhole across, reaching down to the monkey's top hand.  I did not attach the stitches at the bottom, but left the edge loose to be able to shape it a bit.  I continued just a narrow band between the monkey's hands to indicate the wool being shaped into thread.

My alphabet is being stitched over one on Lakeside Linens Vintage Tarnished Silver, 28 count.  I think it adds a "dark" touch!  I'm using lots of different silk threads, rather than the suggested DMC colors - and I urge you to try your own favorite threads.  While the suggestions are there to help you see the colors I had in mind, each of these alphabets will be different, and you should choose the colors you think best.  Along those lines, here are Jo's - she has gotten a LOT done, and it looks great, doesn't it?

Jo's pictures, along with mine and any others I might receive, will be over on the website, in the "Art Gallery of Friendship" - why not go over and take a look?

Prize Winners
I also promised to send out the prizes from our last giveaway - but I've only received about 7 addresses so far - please email us at if you haven't sent us your address yet.  We're still waiting to hear from:

Cathy Lloyd 
 pj from iowa

Please let us know where to send your prize.  Meantime, the Gallery Guides for all those who have sent an address will go out tomorrow!  Thank you so much for letting us know you're reading the blog and enjoying it!

Friday, May 6, 2011

Sulgrave Manor

I'm home from Hawaii, and hard at work on "E is for", but in the meantime, thought I should add a little something to the blog.  Continuing the Travelogue of our visit to England, we spent a wonderful afternoon at

Sulgrave Manor.  Here's my account.

Friday was a busy travel day for us - we did a lot, but most of it was sitting! We got out to catch our bus to Oxford by 9 a.m. - pretty slick - it stopped to pick us up just a block away. On we went to Oxford, where we found the next stop and had a quick bite before heading out on another bus to Banbury. This bus took us out into the country side and through several very charming small villages of old stone houses and stacked stone walls. An hour later, we were looking for the taxi stand and soon watching the country-side fall away and the manor house looming ahead. It's a less imposing home than some others we've seen, but the history of Washington's family before they moved to America was one we were eager to learn.

Like so many other museums we've been to there were many school children exploring the area. Even though the house is now closed to the public, the school tours continue. I'm sure there are no English schools - all the children report to buses every morning and are taken to a different museum! They are all very orderly, though, and usually not interested in the same things we are, so we usually are seeing them at a distance!  

Sulgrave Manor has a main room which is an excellent example of a Tudor style interior, which is what the English tourists are there to see. Americans, of course, come to see where George Washington's family got its origins. Laurence Washington (whose great grandfather was named William Hartburne before he acquired land in a place called Washington, England, whereupon he was immediately known as William Washington) bought the land and built the house in the early 1500's. His great grandson was John Washington who moved to America. At that point, there were no more Washingtons from that family in England, and another family owned the house and lands.
We were given a wonderful tour and explanation of the Tudor area, as well as the rest of the house, and finally taken upstairs where the bedhangings are normally. I say normally, because, of course, they are away in storage right now. 
A new roof (the first one in 400 years) is being installed and it's shaking so much dust into the upstairs rooms that most of the rooms are shrouded in protective cloths, and not available to be seen. We lifted a plastic tarp to look at "the bed", and then went to another room to see the bedhangings which are stored now. I was allowed to take pictures, and of course, was thrilled to see them. I saw several slips that were like the one I stitched, and of course, no way to tell which was which. 

Quite a few years ago now, I read a note in a magazine saying they were looking for stitchers to stitch "slips" for the bedhangings.  Because they were for George Washington's ancestral home, and because I was a new American who hailed from English parents living in Canada, it seemed like a natural thing for me to do.  I sent away for my test, returned it, and I guess I passed, because, in due time, my slip kit arrived.  I stitched away on it diligently, and sent it off when it was done and hoped someday to see the finished product.  To say I am pleased with how the bedhangings look is an understatement - they are stunning!  And I'm so happy to have participated in this wonderful project.

I took several pictures and will assume I have one of "mine". They are beautifully embellished and the hangings are spectacular!   "Mine" is the strawberry plant and ladybug.

Jenny Overson, who is the house manager and senior guide, gave us a wonderful afternoon - she spent so much time with us and was so patient, taking us into back rooms and up into the attic! (I always love to go into rooms others don't get to see). 

After it was all over, we met one of the trustees (a Baroness, no less) who was also visiting, and then spent a bit of time (and money :D) in the gift shop. Jenny made us a cup of tea, and all too soon, our afternoon was over and our cab had returned to pick us up.

Back on two more buses, and home again to relive our day's adventure!

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