Sunday, August 29, 2010

Shine on Harvest Moon

Becky mentioned to me early in the week that the moon was full and so beautiful.  When I looked, I saw a real Harvest Moon - orange, large and so full of beauty!  People have gazed at the moon and the night skies in wonder for centuries.  Modern science can analyze the phases of the moon and map the stars, but that does not diminish the beauty and mystery!

In 1799, Westtown School in Pennsylvania opened it's doors to students, just ten years after Ackworth had begun to teach Quaker students in Yorkshire, England.  Modeled after Ackworth, Westtown School was very much like her English counterpart.  But soon, differences began to be noted.  One of the most puzzling, and wondrous, is the development of the silk embroidered globes to be found only at Westtown School.  No other place or time has produced them.  While many stitched map samplers, only the girls at Wesstown School produced globe samplers.  Carefully and cleverly constructed, they are beautiful, yes, and oh so practical!  

Judith A. Tyner has done a great deal of research on this subject. Her 2004 article for Piecework - Magazine - Stitching the World: Westtown School's Embroidered Globes - is considered the seminal work on the subject.  The first was probably produced around 1804 and the last in 1843 when embroidery was dropped from the school curriculum at Westtown.  They were used as a teaching tool, not only in needlework, but also geography. 

An article in Sampler and Antique Needlework Quarterly quotes a letter home from a young Westtown student who was asking for the money to purchase supplies for her globe.  She explains how useful it will be for teaching geography to her younger siblings.

Nancy Nehring has developed a method for constructing these globes, and Piecework has made those instructions available online.  
There are just a handful of these beauties left in the world (at least, that we know about) and Westtown owns nine of them.  The pictures here were taken during a trip to Westtown some years ago.  
A few are in private hands.  An even smaller number of Celestial Globes was made (you were WONDERING how I was tying in the full moon, weren't you?)  These were a true wonder, and I think there are only three or four known of!  Westtown does not own any.  

Here is a celestial globe used in the 18th century by British sailors for navigation.  The intricacy of tracing the path of the stars is amazing!  Imagine embroidering those details...

Look at the sky tonight and see what you think you would stitch...


Sunday, August 22, 2010

Common Threads

What do Honus Wagner, The Queen of Prussia and the Geranium Have in Common?

They were all featured in tobacco premiums early in the 20th Century!   We all know about baseball cards (which appeared in cigarette packages as well as candy and bubblegum).  Last week's post on the Queen of Sheba sent me scrambling to find my small collection of cigarette silks, as I was sure I had one of her, and sure enough! As I looked through these lovely pieces, I marveled at the early ingenuity of tobacco marketing. It hearkens back to a day when you would open your box of laundry soap to find a dishtowel rolled up inside, or you went to the movies once a week because you were collecting the dishes they gave away with the 35 cent ticket! Is it possible to have nostalgia for a time you didn't actually know? All I really know about these things is what I've seen in movies, but I have learned a little about cigarette silks.

Savvy tobacco marketers decided to target women when they noticed that women were saving cigar ribbons to use in their needlework.  There are quilts made up entirely of different cigar ribbons - these silk ribbons were actually used to tie the cigars in a package together and no thought had been given to using that ribbon as a "premium".  But the tobacco companies were quick to jump on the bandwagon and began to include small pieces of fabric in each cigarette package specifically to attract women customers.  These pieces of "silk" (they were actually made of a lot of different things - a few silk, some cotton, some a combination in a satin finish) were prized for crazy quilts which were very popular at the time.  They were printed on a woven fabric.  While some were monochrome, such as my Actress series, some were in glorious color, such as the Queens in my collection.

Small scraps and vignettes are perfectly suited to this wonderful folk art, and the cigarette silks were hugely popular!  I bought mine for the same reason, though of course, my crazy quilt is yet to be made...  But they are perfect for this purpose!

They appeared in cigarettes in the UK and the US from the late Victorian era into the late 1920's.  The subject matter was very varied - you could collect almost anything, it seemed, from photos of popular actresses of the time, to gorgeous floral prints to artistic renderings of famous Indian Chiefs.  There were military insignia, college seals - if you could reproduce it on a small piece of fabric, it was there!

Today, some collectors choose to simply display the silks, as above, but there are still some who use them in needlework, and you can see pictures of people's handiwork on their blogs...

The pictures on these pieces are absolutely beautiful in some cases, and the history is fascinating to me...

Next time you're browsing on eBay, take a look - there are lots to choose from, and they can be surprisingly affordable.  And as collections go, they don't take up much space!


Friday, August 13, 2010

Who Do You Think You Are? The Queen of Sheba?

Queen of Sheba on a Cigarette Silk

The Arrival of the Queen of Sheba music for you to listen to.  

That is a phrase we have heard all our lives, but do we really know what it means? Do we  know who the Queen of Sheba was?   Did you know she was so prominent in needlework? I have been filing away articles and information off the internet for awhile on the Queen of Sheba, wanting to investigate her a bit more and add her to our blog articles. I was prompted today by Jacqueline's wonderful photo of the Queen of Sheba offering a cupcake to King Solomon on her blog Needleprint. I just love that image, but there are many images of the Queen of Sheba to explore and several articles questioning who the Queen of Sheba was and giving us ideas to think about. 

And what about the women stitching these beautiful needlework portrayals of the Queen of Sheba, were they showing their pro-feminist sides? Sheba offers a defense of material goods that is also a defense of needlework itself at a time when some refer to needlework as a frivolous use of time and materials.  They equally may have been celebrating contemporary forms of female power in domesticity, ownership, or gift-giving that they experienced themselves closer to home.  

Here are two articles to help you decide:    

Both of these articles will give you much to think of regarding Sheba in needlework. 

Was Sheba their women's-lib figure in all her splendor and glory and seeking knowledge to put her equal to a man? Equal to the King? 

Did the seventeenth century woman stitching the various Queens of Sheba find her fascinating beyond the biblical interpretations?

She was born and died in the 10th century BC., her birthplace Sheba, now Yemen or Ethiopia. The Queen of Sheba was best known as the wealthy Queen who tested Solomon.  

The name she is called and the location from which she comes changes depending on whose interpretation you might read.  The Queen's 10th century BC visit to the grand court of Solomon, King of Israel and son of the legendary Goliathslayer David, however, is well-attested in three major ancient sources: the Biblical Old Testament, the Islamic Qu'ran, and the Ethiopian Kebra Nagast (Glory of the Kings). These three perspectives on the Queen meld to create a picture of one of the relatively rare, powerful female monarchs of the ancient world.

So many beautiful depictions of the Queen of Sheba are found in various forms of needlework. Canvas pictorials, stumpwork, mirror surrounds, caskets and they are found in English and American interpretations. 

You will see several images we have found for you to view here.

You may want to indulge in some Queen of Sheba cake.  It is nice to include all of our senses on these journeys. 

(The Way to Cook by Julia Child, Knopf, 1989)

Julia says:

A very special cake of rum, almonds, butter and chocolate that is somewhat moist in the center-it literally melts in the mouth...Like most French cakes, it is only an inch and a half high, which makes it easy to serve.

3 oz. bittersweet chocolate
1 oz. unsweetened chocolate
2 Tablespoons strong coffee
1 stick unsweetened butter, softened
1/2 cup sugar
3 egg yolks
The egg whites:
3 egg whites (a scant 1/2 cup)
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
a pinch of salt
2 Tablespoons sugar
1/3 cup blanched almonds ground together with 2 tablespoons sugar in the food processor
1/4 teaspoon almond extract
1/2 cup cake flour (scooped and leveled with the back of a knife)

1. Preheat the oven to 325F and set the rack in the lower middle of the oven.
2. Butter and flour an 8 inch round cake pan.
3. Melt the chocolate in the top of a double boiler. When melted, remove from the heat, but keep warm.
4. Cream butter and sugar together with a mixer. When soft and fluffy, add the sugar and beat 1 minute. Add the egg yolks, and beat thoroughly.
5. In a separate bowl, beat the egg whites until foamy. Add the cream of tartar and continue beating until soft peaks form. Gradually beat in the 2 Tablespoons of sugar and continue until you have stiff, shiny peaks.
6. All at once, blend the warm, smoothly melted chocolate and the coffee into the yolk mixture. Stir in the almonds and almond extract. Stir one-quarter of the egg-white mixture into the chocolate mixture.
7. Scoop the rest of the whites over the chocolate mixture and, alternating with sprinkles of the flour, rapidly and delicately fold in the egg whites.
8. Turn the batter into the prepared pan, tilting it in all directions to run the batter up to the rim all around the pan, and set it in the preheated oven.
9. Bake for 25 minutes, or until the cake has puffed to the top of the pan and a toothpick inserted into the cake 2-3 inches from the edge of the pan comes out clean. The center should still be slightly jiggly.
10. Cool the pan on a rack for 15 minutes, and then unmold the cake onto the rack (by placing the rack atop the pan, and flipping both over). Let cool completely-2 hours-before storing or, if desired, icing.

2 ounces semisweet chocolate
1 ounce unsweetened chocolate
1-1/2 Tablespoons strong coffee or rum
a pinch of salt
6 Tablespoons unsalted butter, softened

1. Melt the chocolate with the coffee or rum in a double boiler. Bring the water in the lower pan to a simmer, then remove from heat, add the chocolate and coffee or rum to the top pan, and cover the top pan. After 5 minutes, the chocolate should be smoothly melted. If not, remove the top (chocolate) pan, turn the heat back on to bring the water back up to a simmer under a lower pan, and repeat the process.
2. When the chocolate is smoothly melted, beat in the salt and the butter, one Tablespoon at a time. Put the chocolate pan over a pan of cold water, and continue to beat until cool and firm enough to spread.
3. Turn the icing over the top of the cake, and spread it over the top and sides.

It is said that little has been verified about the Queen of Sheba's life. So I am sharing just bits and pieces I have found mostly on the internet with you and hope that once again, this will whet your appetite to seek further information regarding the Queen of Sheba in needlework and history and that it will take you on an armchair journey to other lands and times. I am also including links to the sources some used, some not, that can help you begin that journey. 

The Search for the Queen of Sheba in six parts:


Sunday, August 8, 2010

100th Follower Giveaway - At Last!

You have all been so patient - thank you.  We wanted to find a giveaway that would let each and every follower know how grateful we are that you are there!  We hope you like this small offering...  

This is the Adam and Eve portion of our sampler by Elizabeth Buck - as interpreted by Julie Buck. 

 Here you see Elizabeth's version...

And here is Julie's - just a little different...

To download the chart, click on either picture.

We hope you really like this chart - it was fun to stitch, and to chart!

Monday, August 2, 2010

Pandora Visits James' Mother

James' mother's home as it looks today.
When we last saw Pandora, she was stealing away from her home at dawn. Her parents had forbidden her engagement to James, but Dora had inherited her grandmother's spirit, and she wasn't about to be told what to do!  She had several weeks before her ship was due to leave port, however - where would she go?

We couldn't resist finding out, so we've given you this excerpt from her journal so you can see too...

I truly didn't know where to go when I first walked out of the house that morning.  After a little bit of thought, I said to myself "Why, I'll just go and see James' mother before I have to decide",  and I set off to Mayfair.  Now, if you know London, you know my neighborhood in Covent Garden on Bow Street is just two miles from my future mother-in-law's home...but it is as if I'd entered another world.  50 Berkeley Square is a quiet, genteel estate, standing grandly over a park.  

Berkeley Square today
When the hackney drew up to the door, I began to think better of this idea.  Why, my word - it was nothing like a respectable hour to be calling on anyone, let alone someone whose good opinion I fervently sought.  I sat in the carriage as if frozen until the driver cleared his throat.  No doubt, he wondered if he'd managed to pick up a lunatic at such an early hour... 

I shook myself from my reverie and alighted.  Paying the driver, I realized just how hasty had been my planning - I had precious little money, and I could easily have walked the two miles.  But not with my trunk!  No, I'd had no choice but to leave, and to seek transport for myself and my belongings.  My passage to America is paid, and I'll have little need for money until I reach Boston, where I'll be met by James and then all my troubles will be behind me.

Feeling very much better, I climbed the stairs to the grand home and rang the bell.  The door was opened almost immediately by a parlourmaid who looked very much like she had gotten dressed in a big hurry.  No doubt, she'd heard the carriage, looked out and saw that her services would be needed.  I was thankful that I didn't have to ring the bell many times.  I told her I was here to see James' mama, and she looked so surprised that anyone would come calling at such an hour.  But she was very well trained, and simply stood aside and asked me to come in.  She seated me in the morning room, and lit the fire she'd probably laid yesterday in preparation for this morning.  A footman appeared as if from nowhere and brought my trunk inside, leaving it in the downstairs hall until he could find out where to take it.  The parlourmaid asked if I would mind waiting whilst she informed her mistress of my arrival, and as she was leaving the room, another maid brought in tea and toast, which she set before me.  I was so grateful for the warmth of that cup of tea! 

After about three quarters of an hour, James' mama appeared, looking very sophisticated in her morning dress and acted as if she entertained guests at 7 a.m. every day!  She called for breakfast to be brought to us in the morning room, and so kindly said "Now, my dear, whilst we wait for our breakfast, do tell me what brings you out so early in the morning."  If she had looked at my trunk in askance, I did not know it - she was all charm and welcoming grace.  I hope I will be as great a lady as she some day...

It was difficult for me to talk at first, as I was so ashamed of my parents and how they had reacted to my engagement.  I didn't know how to tell my story without letting it slip that my parents really did not understand... anything!  Very quickly, James' mama sized up the situation and said "Oh, but of course - this is the last I will see of you for some time, so you have so generously come to spend some time with me before you leave on your long journey!  You are so thoughtful my dear, and I am so grateful to your parents for allowing me to have this time, when I'm sure they will be missing you so."  I wasn't sure, but I was very thankful for Mama's (she's asked me to call her Mama, can you imagine?) tact and generosity.  My admiration for her grows minute by minute!

After breakfast, Mama had the parlourmaid who found me on the doorstep take me upstairs to show me my rooms.  It's lovely here - I have a bedroom AND a sitting room to myself if I want some privacy, but everyone has been so kind, and I feel very much like one of the family.  I have so loved getting to know Mama better, and she has told me so much about James as a child.  I am very fortunate.

She even gave me a wonderful keepsake - a miniature portrait she'd had commissioned of James when he was ten years old. 

We found this miniature wrapped carefully and placed in a secret compartment in Pandora's Writing Box
As you can see from it, he already knew he wanted to go to sea!  Of course, he comes from a very long line of Sea Captains.  Many years before, his great, great grandfather had been a second son, and realized that he must make his own way in the world.  He set off to sea as a very young man, seeking only adventure.  He got on very well, and was captain before he was 35 years old!  His fortune was made a few years later as trade had begun to pick up and there was a substantial living to be made by importing exotic goods to England.  He did very well, indeed, and married at the age of 50, having made enough money to retire from the sea and establish a fine home.  His only son followed in his footsteps and went off to sea very early too.  He also did very well for himself, and so it has gone down the line of James' forebears.  His father was a very well-known seaman, who had been lost at sea during a storm when James was very young.  This did nothing to quell his desire to travel the world, and he set out for America just a month ago.  I am to meet him there and we'll be married the very day I arrive!

My time here is almost over - it has slipped away so very quickly!  But I am very much looking forward to my voyage across the sea.  Whilst I do have some trepidation, I am also very impatient for my adventure to begin!

And so we will watch for Pandora's next installment, when we will see just how she fares on the open seas...

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