Wednesday, May 30, 2012

La Danse Macabre and Embroidered Caskets-but-not-Coffins

Jo has completely finished her Dark Alphabet sampler and here it is in all its glory - isn't it stunning?

Jo personalized her sampler with these two additional squares - aren't they cool?

Even cooler - while she was stitching the alphabet, Jo wrote a poem about the alphabet - so clever!  Read all about it on Jo's excellent blog, Serendipitous Stitching!  You'll see that we just had to send Jo a little something for completing the sampler in record time - AND that we decided not to put "coffin" on the customs form - just in case, hahaha.

But now, our thoughts turn to a different kind of casket....

Casket by unknown maker at the Victoria and Albert Museum

As we journey through our needlework life, we find ourselves progressing from one interest and level of difficulty to the next, just as the young girls we admire who were stitching the samplers did.   We inspect the samplers, looking for clues as to who they were and why they were stitching what they did and who was teaching them.  At the same time, we want to emulate them.  The   Pièce de résistance for many of us is the "Casket".  That wonderful embroidered box, it holds mysterious drawers and tokens hidden within.  So few exist and so seldom out on view, it seems they too are hidden and mysterious and the search to find them can be daunting.  But as they gain more and more popularity, they begin to come into view and some that were never known to exist have been found and more continue to come forward and say "look at me too! I'm as pretty or prettier than the one before!" 

Many of us know about the Martha Edlin embroideries at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London - and if you don't know - you should!  Martha stitched her sampler when she was eight years old! 

and this one when she was nine!  

And her casket when she was eleven!

There is a great video on the V&A site which shows you all sides of the casket and inside, too.  It gave me goose-bumps to see this casket in person when I visited the V&A, and I would recommend anyone to do this.  It's one of the few that I know of anywhere on permanent exhibit.  You can also see her other embroideries there including one finished and one unfinished mirror surround using the same stumpwork techniques as on the casket!

We are seeing and hearing more and more about the needlework casket and Julie and I were lucky enough to be in one of Tricia Wilson Nguyen's classes at the Needlework Seminar in Winterthur last Fall, " A Tisket a Tasket,  Who made the Casket".  Trish has been a force to be reckoned with in the research on caskets for many years and much is owed to her research in all that is now coming to view on them.   You might be one of the lucky ones taking her current online course on Caskets.   The rest of us can follow the journey she took in her research to come to the point of offering this course by reading her blog.  The process and the number of craftsmen it is taking to reproduce all of the parts and pieces for this reproduction is fascinating.  We can hardly wait to see what everyone taking the course is designing for their special piece.

Detail from Martha Edlin's casket

Some of the fascinating information is the world of bookmaking that may have been part of the creation of these caskets.  I know I was so amazed when Tricia let us actually touch and hold parts of one of her finds and how light it was. The first words out of my mouth were balsa wood. But it's not actually balsa, but something similar.   That tells you how light it is compared to what you would guess when looking at the caskets.  The beautiful locks and keys that held the secrets inside and the wonderful decorative papers and markings on the interiors are all the extra touches that make the caskets from the past and future very special as well. 

One of the things I like is the thought of how all of us as young girls or many of us coveted that pretty jewelry box with the twirling ballerina inside. Was that our current day casket, compared to what the young girls who were creating the needlework caskets coveted?   Were there girls wishing to have one of their own? Did they realize what a treasure it was they were creating?  

I have thought of so many designs I would put on the piece if ever I was to design one.  Would it be historical and biblical or would I go more modern and use my mermaids to swim around the box with a sailing theme? What would you embroider for your casket?  Would you have a secret drawer or two and what would you put inside?  Let the dreams begin! 

Well, Julie and I haven't been able to find the time currently to be able to stitch a casket, but we may have something to share soon at "In The Company of Friends" which may hold us and some of you over until you can find the time to create one of your own as well.  Keep watching because as with anything we create, there will be a limited number available and this one has been a treasure to create.

You can follow all the research leading up to the casket class here on Tricia Wilson Nguyen's Blog.  And if you didn't get lucky enough to take Tricia's first casket class, she is taking sign-ups for a waiting list on the next-to-be-offered class, at an unknown date.  Much depends on the craftsmen working on the various parts and pieces and their timelines for the number of pieces they are able to create.

There are many images of caskets to be found on the internet that you can study and use for inspiration in planning what you would design for your casket, if you are lucky enough to create one in the coming years.  We leave you with this long list of links to try....

On Pinterest there is a category for stumpwork and you will find some images of caskets as well as inspiration for creating your own designs possible for a contemporary casket. Much of nature in plants and bugs and birds.....

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Pinterest for the Needleworker! And a Contest Winner!

Have you been bitten by the Pinterest bug yet?  If you haven't discovered this way to avoid the work on your desk, doing the laundry or other to do list items.....Here is where you might want to start! Not only are there general pages of many beautiful images to day dream over, there is list upon list of topics that interest the needle-worker or any other area you might want to enjoy.

So what is Pinterest? 
Our experience has been that it's like a little peek inside the studios of many artists!  You get to see what they've pinned up on their bulletin boards.  If you "follow" them, you get to see everything they pin - it just shows up on your own bulletin board.  Julie uses Pinterest as her opening screen for her browser right now - it changes so often, she just keeps "refreshing" through the day.

Wikipedia defines it as: 
"Pinterest is a pinboard-style social photo sharing website that allows users to create and manage theme-based image collections such as events, interests, hobbies and more. Users can browse other pinboards for inspiration, 're-pin' images to their own collections and/or 'like' photos. Pinterest's mission is to "connect everyone in the world through the 'things' they find interesting" via a global platform of inspiration and idea sharing. Pinterest allows its users to share 'pins' on both Twitter and Facebook, which allows users to share and interact with a broad community. Founded by Ben Silbermann, of West Des Moines, Iowa,the site is managed by Cold Brew Labs and funded by a small group of entrepreneurs and inventors. It is one of the "fastest growing social services in the world."'

You can pin your own images, or look at others'.  If you "repin", it shows on your bulletin board and everyone who follows you can see it.  If you just "like" it, it joins a list of likes that you can go back and look for when you need them.  It's also a kind of "shorthand" way to communicated.  Becky will put up a picture, and I will "like" it - may even comment on it - so I don't have to phone or email her to let her know I like it.  (Now, you may think it's not very important if Becky knows if I like something, and you're probably right, but it is handy to take a look at these kinds of things so when we start a new design, we know we have some common ground to draw on).  See?  work-related!

The images link back to the original site that posted them, so if you are really serious about making that special dish you see pictured, you can click on the picture and go to find the recipe.  Or you can read the story that goes with the pictures of the needlework.  

You can pin any image you find on the internet by adding a "pin it" button to your browser - but do be respectful of copyright - most artists love that you are "pinning" their work and showing it around, but there are those who would rather you didn't.  Since it's hard to tell - don't pin from other people's Flicker  or Picasa accounts - those are their private pictures.  Blogs and other "Look at this!" kind of sites usually mean you can pin the photos there - just use your common sense and you'll not go wrong.

So you set up your account and you decide what your boards' topics will be and away you go. Then you are being followed by people you don't know, not truly "followed", just your pins!  You start to follow someone who you have never met before, because they have beautiful pins, Jacki Poulson, whoever she is, is Becky's new favorite to follow... "She has such beautiful pins, they inspire me to want to create, but where is the time to create, when I keep pushing to the next page to see what else there is in this beautiful world of images? I have so many likes, never moving them to my boards and on and on, but isn't it nice to have a world of beautiful imagery to enjoy when you need a break from the rush of life?

I find mermaids and acorns, beautiful gardens and homes, places to travel, artwork of every kind, Sailor's Valentines, cute puppy faces and the recipes, well you don't have enough time in your life to try all the recipes that look oh-so-yummy. Tea Time and Tea Parties, holidays galore, weddings and do you need an idea for a new hairdo or how to paint your fingernails? If you can think it there is probably a pin for it and you can search on and on, depending on what people might title their boards, you find something interesting in so many various categories as you can see by the few that I have listed below that relate to needlework and that I found in searching in a short period of time.  Soon you will be able to find In The Company of Friends on Pinterest as well if I ever let Julie loose from the workroom! Many of your favorite businesses have boards there for you to follow.

So head to  to spend a few minutes (hahaha) ok and hour or so and enjoy all that might interest you.  Below are the sub-categories  I found for needlework to start with.

Pinterest for the Needleworker

English Embroidery

surface Embroidery

Stumpwork Embroidery

Cross Stitch



Needlework Tools

Counted Thread



Hand Embroidery

Antique Needlework

antique samplers

Ethnic Embroidery

needlework patterns


There are so many more categories that you might explore of your various interests in areas of needlework or anything you can imagine. It seems someone out there is pinning it to a board! 

Contest winner!  Well, this will come as no big surprise to anyone - but Jo Perry has come up with a completely stitched set of the Dark Alphabet before anyone else!  Doesn't it look grand?  As soon as Jo sends us her snail mail address, we'll send her prize out!  A little hand-made token that we think is very fitting to the Dark Alphabet!  Thank you, Jo, for following along with us as we took that journey "to the dark side", bwahahahahaha.

Jo was so wonderful to help us by providing us with pictures, and still, she did more!  As she stitched, she composed a poem - what fun!

The Dark Alphabet Poem

A is for Apple and temptation from snakes
B is for Brimstone and the fiery pits that it makes
C is for Coven and witches three
D is for Devil, a Dutch spinning monkey
E is for Eek, disturbing the peace
F is for Furies, three women from Greece
G is for Gargoyle made out of stone
H is for Headless Horseman on a bay or a roan
I is for Inky Darkness on a black night
J is for Jack-in-a-box who gives you a fright
K is for Kelpie the Scots' water-horse
L is for Lightning Bird and its storms, of course
M is for Mummy with a bandaged head
N is for Necromancy and raising the dead
O is for Occult and fortune telling
P is for Phantom singing in his underground dwelling
Q is for Queen of the Night and her Dark Power
R is for Raven who lives in the Tower
S is for Skeleton made out of bones
T is for Things that go bump and their ghostly moans
U is for Urmahlullu the Protector of the loo
V is for Voodoo, a doll which looks just like you
W is for Wyvern like a dragon with only two feet
X is for Xaphon and demonic bellows fanning the heat
Y is for Yggdrasil the legendary Norse tree
Z is for Zombee, yes - an undead Bee!
This is the whole of the Dark Alphabet
In memory for Lisa who we'll never forget

Written by Jo Perry inspired by Julie Buck's designs.

YOU can still win a prize - just finish stitching before Julie (which gives you LOTS of time!) and send us a photo of the stitched alphabet!  Everyone who does this before Julie finishes will win a prize.  What have you got to lose?

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