Saturday, January 30, 2010

Cushy Job!

We belong to a local needlework guild - The Pacific Northwest Needle Arts Guild, or PNNAG, and we wanted to do something fun with them, so we sponsored a pin cushion contest!  People were invited to bring in their entries early in January.  An independent judge chose three winners from the assorted pin cushions we received, and we awarded the prizes earlier today!  We wanted a lighthearted title for the contest - perhaps a little irreverent - so we came up with "Poke Me Baby".  Our Grand Prize Winner titled her cushion "Poky Baby" - such a cute idea!

We had two "Best of Category" winners as well - this ingenious flower is titled "One of My Favorites", and is fashioned after a favorite flower that grows in the maker's garden.  

The second is "House of Pins" - a rug-hooked cottage adorned with chintz flowers!  

Thank you to all the entrants - what a fun contest this was!

With our minds on pins and pin cushions, Becky did some research:

As you can tell from our business, Julie and I love all the toys of the needle worker...especially anything you can stick a pin in!  So many needle work techniques lend themselves to creating pin cushions and it seems this last year there has been a resurgence in interest in creating these small tokens of affection.

Pins have been used throughout the ages and were once very precious, as they were expensive and hard to come by, so containers and safe homes for them have been popular as well. We have many verses and stories that involve the pins, needles and cushions they live in.   I decided this week we would share some of what we have found on the history of the pin cushion!  The internet is just such a wonderful resource these days when you decide you want to know about something.  So away I went to my friend Google and typed in "Pin Cushion History".  Not only did I get information on the pin cushions I was looking for and many beautiful sites creating unique pin cushions, I found human pin cushions, 
acupuncture and of course pin cushion cactus.  
There was also a band called the Pincushions.

Now here is the problem with the research on the internet, who do you believe? One article says the first pin cushion came in during the Tudor period of  the 15th century and another states they became popular in the 1700's. During the 1800's pin cushions began to be made commercially as well. They would commemorate events and were popular souvenirs. 
Before pin cushions, pins were carried in containers of bone, ivory, silver.... 
Simple shapes of beautiful silks gave way to ones greatly enhanced during the Victorian era.  Pin cushions found themselves mounted on stands and adorned with trims, tassels and laces. Many were formed in shapes of shoes, fans, animals, fruits and vegetables....
I read that the small stuffed elephant that Stieff stuffed animal company is so well known for began it's life as a felt pin cushion and that is what started the company, that grew into the beautiful animals we know it for today. 

So why is that tomato pin cushion so popular and why has it lasted through time? Well maybe it started in Italy where the tomato was so precious and important in their welfare and their food? In Italy there was a time when a tomato was displayed on the mantle over the fireplace to bring prosperity and good luck and to the home owner. They were also believed to keep away evil spirits.  At certain times of the year, tomatoes were hard to come by, they could not be grown and they also rotted easily, so they were created out of fabric to replace the real tomato for this symbol of good luck and to be used on the mantle of the home. They were filled tightly with sawdust and were then also used as a pin cushion. 

Another article I read on the pin cushion tomato informed me that the reason they have been around for so long, is that they are really useful in their design. The sections of the tomato pin cushion were used to place the different sized pins and needles, to keep them in order. Also the special strawberry emery used to keep the precious pins and needles sharp. So why do you think this tomato has been in use for so many centuries?
Layette pincushions were another type of popular gift during the time between 1170 and 1890. The beautiful satin forms with verses spelled out in the heads of the pins " Welcome Sweet Stranger", " Sweet Babe"....were special gifts for mothers to be. 

This site is my favorite for showing and telling interesting history of various types of pin cushions. It is a must to take a stroll through, if you enjoy pin cushions.

Here is a fun story - "The Letter on The Pincushion".

I love the "Make Do" pincushions we see from some of the colonial times into our current day, where people take something that was once something else and maybe a part is missing or such, but they turn it into the base for their pin cushion. We see many of those in various forms of needlework and quilting arts. 

Then the popular Biscornu has taken the needlework world by storm this last couple of years, in all the unique designs we see created in this 8-sided wonder. 

But I am really wanting a beautiful pin ball, one that once hung from a ladies' chatelaine to be added to my collection one day.

I hope you have enjoyed this quick walk through the world of pin cushions and that you and your friends will continue the tradition of giving these tokens of friendship to one another. 

Here is a free chart  from Brookes Books, to cross stitch a pin cushion.

And here is a wonderful online version of an old book on the subject!

A few pictures of Julie's pin cushion collection:




Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Adam and Eve again

We are so excited - I told you we "had our eye" on a couple of Adam and Eve samplers - but they ran away and hid.  Actually, we were bidding on one of them in an online/regular, live auction in Chicago.  Luckily, we had set a firm price we couldn't go above, because it really is hard to rein in your enthusiasm while the bidding is going on - something "else" just takes over!  But that Adam and Eve decided not to come to Seattle to play.  Little did we know that two days later we'd find one that DID want to come to Seattle!  

If you love antique samplers and would like to see some that are for sale, go here.  Madelena Antiques is a favorite company for us to go and drool and very occasionally buy!  And buy we did the other day.  We won't show you the whole sampler, but here's a little "taste".


Don't they look like a fun couple?  We're thrilled.  We actually found TWO samplers we couldn't live without on Madelena's site - you really ought to check it out!  If you look here you'll find an article on samplers at the bottom of the page.  And if you email Madelena Antiques at you'll be able to get on their email list - a notification every week when new samplers are put up for sale!

Friday, January 22, 2010

Adam and Eve

While we continue to wait for books on mermaids to arrive,  we've been spending some time thinking about another of our favorite sampler themes.  Adam and Eve Samplers, it seems to me, are especially engaging. Many times, the child who stitched the sampler shows the pair (with apples of all different descriptions) being tempted by the serpent. Eve is usually on the right side of the tree, and it is usually she toward whom the snake is facing. But little girls will add their own interpretations, and it is fascinating to see all the different Adam and Eve depictions and how they may be dressed (or not). Over the last few years, Becky and I have collected a few Adam and Eve samplers (and have our eyes on another couple!) Each has its charms, and the more we see, the more enchanted we have become!

Needlework depictions of the pair usually show the couple facing us, reaching for an apple (or holding one), and wearing some version of a fig leaf. The bible states that Adam and Eve sewed together fig leaves and made themselves aprons. The variety of dress or undress of the figures is quite fascinating. It must have presented quite a challenge to the stitcher to portray Adam and Eve historically correct without clothing, but be conservative at the same time according to the custom of their time. Some samplers depicting Adam and Eve appeared to take on the dress customary to the fashion of the day.(and don't we wish we had one of THOSE samplers!

You can see above that Ann Wilson managed to indicate everything except the apples! Adam and Eve were the first biblical characters to be depicted on needlework samplers, though many biblical stories were illustrated over the years.  The Tree of Knowledge (as it is almost always referred to, rather than the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil) is treated with a great deal of liberty in design. This is where the stitcher could get really fancy. Some branched out all over the samplers, with other motifs attached to the ends of the branches that had nothing to do with the scene. The number of apples varied from 5 to 30. The average seemed to be about 15. An odd number was usually used to allow for a balanced tree with one apple on top, although many stitchers took several liberties with their designs, they seldom left a space blank to show where the offending apple had been. 

In some American samplers seven apples were used to signify the seven deadly sins. The Tree of Knowledge is usually portrayed as an apple tree, but in fact, the bible doesn't specify the fruit as apples. As you will remember from our pomegranate discussion, some people speculate that the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge was, in fact, the pomegranate. Many times,the Tree of Knowledge is identified as the Tree of Life, to the extent that there is little difference made of the two these days. The most simple differentiation is that the Tree of Knowledge allows humans to be Godlike, in their knowledge and understanding of good and evil. Eating the fruit of the Tree of Life would allow them to live forever. 

Animals appear in many of the scenes, usually a symbolic statement. In 1738, I.R.S. depicted an owl, presumably to represent knowledge. Many samplers show a squirrel at the bottom of the tree. In early northern symbolism the squirrel represents mischief so although you will find squirrels in lots of samplers, it takes on a new meaning pictured with Adam and Eve in the fall from grace.

Whereas Eve is usually depicted holding or reaching for the apple, in my stitching, I had a different idea. While Adam was all too willing to blame Eve, he wasn't exactly blameless!

The first documented appearance in the American colonies of samplers depicting our first parents was in 1741 although they had made a previous appearance in England in 1709. While they were still a popular motif of their English counterparts, Adam and Eve were rarely seen after 1810 on American girl samplers.

By the end of the 18th century, Adam and Eve lost prominence on the pictorial sampler, giving way to the shepherdess and the fishing lady. The serpent was a major figure in most of the samplers. Frequently it was as large or larger than Adam and Eve, dwarfing the tree. It was more reminiscent of a large fat earthworm rather than a snake.

Sometimes the embroiderer added stripes and dots to the serpent, giving it even more pictorial importance, and usually it was coiled one to three times around the tree. 

By the first decade of the 19th century, the Adam and Eve theme had lost favor with the girl’s schools and was rarely used, although there are examples that can be seen continuing to modern times. It is a universal theme that has endured for nearly three centuries of embroidery.

We love the Adam and Eve theme so much, we've used it for many of our products.  We've used it twice for Boxed Sets, and right now still have about two boxes left before they are retired!

Have a great weekend - we DO hope to bring you some very interesting thoughts on mermaids soon! 

Much of the information in today's blog came from reading articles written by Darlene Anderson, or hearing her speak on the subject.  Thank you Darlene!

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Influences on Greek Embroidery

We ran across the most interesting article and just HAD to share it with you!  It goes into great detail about the history surrounding Greek embroidery and how foreign influences came to the shores of the Greek Islands.  Not only a fascinating read, but be sure to click on all the links - there are charts, tutorials and lots of "value added" items!  We spent a few hours there...

Jacqueline noticed that we had a broken link above, which I have fixed.  She wondered if we meant this one, which we didn't, but find it to be greatly interesting too!   Thank you so much!

We are so excited - we're off to MESDA in Old Salem, near Winston Salem North Carolina, March 17 through the 19th for their textile seminar: “Trees of life bear fruits of love”: New Research in Southern Needlework and Textiles.  We've booked our flights, have our rental car and hotel reservations and we're jumping up and down over here in the Seattle area. (well, not ALL the time, but a LOT).  We attended one of these wonderful seminars two years ago and loved it - can't wait to go back and join in the fun again.  If you're planning on being there, be sure to say "hi" to us - we'll be the two taking copious notes!  :D

Friday, January 15, 2010

Greek Embroidery and Geek Chicanery

Becky is still deep in her research:

I hope this finds you all enjoying another week of doing some stitching and other simple pleasures you enjoy.  I had hoped to be telling you about Mermaids, one tail versus two tails, both historically how and why they have been used, as well as on stitching. But there is so much and some of the books have not arrived that I hope hold some interesting "tails" to share. So you will just have to wait for that to come in the future. Anyone who knows me knows I have a special fondness for mermaids! They swim around the guest suite and throughout other areas of my life.

Here's a tidbit to tempt you.  Now, how many tails DOES this, uh, lady have?

Then I thought I could wow you with how many varieties of slushies I can make! My daughter Natalie had her tonsils and adenoids out yesterday, so nurse Becky has been creating as many icy drinks as possible to keep the swelling down. My patient is terrific, so my nursing duties are very easy.

But I decided to continue the discussion of Greek Embroidery. There is so much and I am still waiting for more books to arrive on this as well, so this discussion could continue down the road as well. The pomegranates intrigued me and I find myself going through more books on my shelves as well at various libraries I have available searching out more to see of the beautiful colorful embroideries found especially in the Greek Islands.  They used so many motifs to tell stories from their culture through symbolism. So I started looking at other motifs that are portrayed often, hence I found my two-tailed mermaid, which we will discuss later. Many of the patterns decorate household items, 

the colorful bands full of floral designs, birds, people and creatures. Many of the flowers and ornamental designs have intriguing faces in their centers. There is much influence in their designs from Italy, Turkey, Persia and other countries from the silk trade business.

Each island's design, though using the same motifs, has a very individualized style - so a peacock seen embroidered from one island will be very different from another. You can also differentiate the embroideries of each island by the stitches they used and the style of design.  Flowers and foliage take a secondary place in the islands; pride of importance goes to animals and geometric patterns. The floral designs used are in the stylized idiom instead of the natural form. The most important are the formal carnation originating in Persia and the rose and serrated leaf which is typical of Turkish embroidery.  Other important flowers found are tulip, hyacinth and cypress to name a few.

The animals seen in most of the embroideries stem from Persian and Byzantine designs and are in the traditional form, having little to do with the living form. The two seen most predominately are the peacock and double-headed eagle. The stag, lions, winged griffins, cocks, parrots and horses follow rank on the embroideries.  Many other small animals will be found as well. 

The peacock has many stories in history through the Middle East, legend of the incorruptibility of its flesh or longevity and thus came to be used in the Byzantine Church as the emblem of immortality. There is much religious symbolism attributed to the peacock which makes it a popular motif not only in embroidery, but in most forms of historic artwork.

The double-headed Byzantine eagle became a symbol of Greek hopes of freedom during the Turkish occupation of their country.  Coins showing this symbol were so popular they were stitched into bodices and head-dresses. The design shown on the embroideries from Crete is a handsome form that looks more Russian than Byzantine.  

In the Geometric patterns there are three popular patterns to be found; many times these were seen on carpets as well as embroideries. The King pattern, Queen pattern and Glastra (Rhodes) pattern. Glastra is the Greek word for flower pot.   The King pattern in its simplest form consists of two conventional leaves set at an angle of forty-five degrees on each side of a stem.  The Queen pattern roughly fills a diamond shape, which supports three prongs arranged to fill in the top of the diamond. The prongs are very often cypress trees or geometric peacocks. The Glastra pattern is medallion-like in shape and nearly always used as a single unit in rows, either vertically or horizontally. It appears to be a derivation of the Tree of life design with a vase of flowers taking the place of the tree. 

The human figure shows up in many forms throughout the islands. In Epirus we find them on bridal cushions. In Crete we not only find little men serenading their ladies with a fiddle, but the figure of the double-tailed mermaid. The tails of these mermaids many times turn into flowers, so that she appears as a torso in a vase of flowers. A must to see! 

Sporades is where you find the most human forms inhabiting their embroideries. Many are dancing, on ships, in bed tents....

Mermaids are also found in Skyros and another interesting creature, a cat or bird with human face. These are seen also on Persian pottery of the thirteenth century. Many Goddesses appear in very stylized forms, some with elaborate headdresses.

All the silks used in the old embroideries were dyed locally with homemade vegetable dye. Some of the islands were famous for certain colors - Amorgos for red, Karpathos for green. Many beautiful colors were used and that is what I find so attractive in these embroideries. A favorite in many of the works was the red monochrome design.

So I challenge you to go on line, go to your library and check out the beautiful embroideries of the Greek Islands and tell us, what is your favorite motif and why. We would love to hear from all of you. Mine of course is that two-tailed mermaid and I promise you will hear more about her soon.

Today's information comes primarily from one book: Greek Island Embroidery by Pauline Johnstone.

Photographs of the embroidery is from another book that Julie is hoarding - er - reading right now - Embroidery of the Greek Islands by Roderick Taylor.  This is a beautiful book sumptuously illustrated.  The motifs shown in these embroideries have inspired both of us to design something new!

The pomegranates from last week are still in our thoughts, and Julie has found some very interesting recipes featuring this exotic fruit. Here is a lovely chicken recipe, a luscious looking salsa, a watermelon gazpacho featuring a pomegranate garnish and a relish that would be wonderful with pork or lamb!

Well, this wraps up the Greek Embroidery - what of the Geek Chicanery?  First of all, of course, chicanery is a bit much - but it sounded good with "embroidery"!  So many lovely people have signed up to become followers - we hope you're one of them!  But have you done the "second part"?  Do you get automatic updates?  

Geeks who write these programs don't really mean to be tricking the rest of us, but they don't realize all these technological advances aren't really easy for us to understand.  It was a long time before I found out how following works - I thought it was just a nice way to show support for a blog you like (and it IS), but it will also deliver automatic updates of ALL the blogs you follow, along with any other web sites you want to add.  The "trick" or "catch" is that it delivers it all to a page they don't really tell you about.  So unless you kind of "stumble upon" it, you don't know!

Go to Google Reader and sign up - it's free.  I also added this page as one of the 8 or 9 home pages I have - they all open up automatically for me when I launch my internet browser.  So it's there ready for me to read throughout the day - a long list of blogs and sites, with unread entries in bold!  If Google isn't your favorite place try Bloglines or Netvibes. They both have the same services, and actually, Netvibes looks like a step beyond - I'm off there now to check it out!

One of our favorite blogs, Jacqueline Holdsworth's Needleprint featured a new sampler book not long ago.  We want to second her nomination that this book warrants your support, as sales help to put some money in the coffers for a number of museums in northern England, and allow them to continue to care for their collections!  While the book has a few limitations - the photos are not the wonderful ones you'd find in a Needleprint publication, for example - the samplers are well worth reading about, and the price can't be beat!  It's just £12.95 plus £2.95 shipping and handling for those in the UK - I'm sure it's a bit more for other parts of the world, but still a bargain!  That translates to $21.06 US for the book!

Besides the book, you also get a CD (and note that if your CD doesn't work, which sounds likely, they will replace it) with photos from the collections.  

The book and CD represent the collections of fifteen museums in the North East of England.  

A few excerpts from the CD:



 This School of Industry piece is so interesting, isn't it?

 And a couple of pages from the book:

One of the limitations of the book - The Quaker sampler shown is upside down!  But you can see that there are full descriptions.

This is especially intriguing - imagine 9 year old M. Woodruff carefully stitching this caption while her teacher looks on approvingly:  "Two judges hid themselves in the garden of Susana to have their pleasure of her."

On a tragic note, I know we all feel the devastation we are seeing in Haiti, as they try to recover from this horrific earthquake. Our prayers and thoughts go out to everyone there and those of you who have friends or loved ones there.

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