Sunday, August 2, 2015

Reproduction research - Tassel

For a few years I have been looking on and off for some idea of what kind of knots make up the tassels on my vintage Punto Umbro cushion that I talked about here.

The tassel is made up of a needle lace covered head with 20 little knots covering the top part and five legs which each have 18 of the same little knots on them.

I've been to thread stores in Italy and asked lots of people. Everyone who had an idea, I tried out with no real success. Always close but not exact.

Recently while looking up something else (as usually happens with research) I stumbled across a photo of something pretty close to my tassel in Rosalba Pepi & Maria Rita Faleri's lovely book on Tassels. Who knows why I didn't notice it before.

Anyway, I started looking seriously through knot books and online.

I made a few different types of knots in paracord first...

Then a few in cotone povero cotton yarn...

I like the Turk's Head knot but it was a bit too round and I also liked the Monkey Fist Knot but it didn't have enough facets.

This is a close up of the head of my tassel with all it's little knots:

Then I thought: am I making this too complicated? This tassel was made near the beginning of the 20th century - what was available to embroiderers then? There is one knot explained in the DMC Encyclopedia (scroll down to the bottom) and one in the Italian Book of Women's Work which I showed you here. I tried them both. They were the closest yet to mine.

Still, they took me some time to work and the thought of taking an hour to make each knot when I had 92 to make motivated me to investigate YouTube, now that I had the name "Chinese Knot" at least to reference. Well, I lost a few days watching YouTube videos but I finally settled on Suzen Millodot's Double Chinese Button Knot tied on a single cord because it's pretty close and because it's relatively easy. I won't know for sure until I get better at making the knot.

I added the French knots as picots in the four corners of the bottom like the ones on my tassel and I'd say that with some practise, I could be happy with these.

Here's a bottom view for comparison:

Double Chinese Button Knot

Now, I really liked the Monkey Fist knot with picots too but that will be for a tassel not related to this one. I show you a photo of a single and then a group of four knotted together just in case you might like to make some for yourself!

Monkey Fist Knot with French Knot picots

Four Monkey Fist Knots with Picots tied together.

If you know what knot it really is on my tassel, will you leave a comment below and let me know?

Friday, July 10, 2015

Printwork Embroidery or Ricamo a Chiaroscuro

Some fun news, I've starting writing a regular column for the new Italian embroidery magazine Giuliana Ricama that I told you about here. They have graciously permitted me to print an English translation of my column here on my blog when each issue that it appears in has come out. So, if you're in Italy and you'd like to read the article in Italian, you'll have to contact the magazine, but for those English speakers, it is below. Please note that the photos of the actual embroidery did not appear in the magazine due to technical issues and the photo of the original etching print does not appear here on my blog because the magazine purchased permission to use it and my blog did not.

One more thing: the photos of this embroidery were sent to me by a lady who contacted me trying to find out something about the piece that she had found at an antiques shop in the U.S. The photos are hers and are used here with permission.


Printwork Embroidery is a technique of embroidery that imitates engraving artwork prints and was very popular in the first half of the 1800s. It then experienced a great revival after the The Great Exposition of London in 1851 where a masterpiece of the technique which featured a young girl embroidering surrounded by the alpine countryside was exhibited by the Swiss embroiderer J.U. Tanner.

Great pains were taken to precisely imitate the marks of the engraver and in order to reproduce the effect of the prints, the embroidery was executed in silk thread in either black or tones of seppia brown. In some cases the work was realized entirely with stitches while in others the background was given washes of colour in order to produce tones similar to the original etching and to avoid endless detailed stitching to obtain a three-dimensional effect.

Catalogues of Italian expositions of the period attest to many prizes being awarded for excellence in this technique as we can deduce from this quote: "...printwork embroidery in silk (awarded) for accuracy and fineness of work and for the well-understood application of shading". (Provincial Exposition of Industry and Agriculture held in Parma, 1871.) In that catalogue there are a dozen prizes which were awarded to this technique alone.

The photos are of a piece that was found at an antiques shop in Crystal River, Florida in the U.S. about 20 years ago. It is a work that is executed with great skill by an embroiderer whose name we know: Luigia Muzio. Dimensions of the piece are 18cm x 12cm and everything is stitched except the date which is printed in ink with a stain around it. After it was purchased, it was reframed using archival materials to ensure it's protection. The ground fabric is silk while the thread is difficult to determine whether it is very fine silk or hair. The embroidery is in good condition with the exception of a bit of deterioration at the top corners. The dedication reads: "For M. Maria Elisabetta Simons in thanks Muzio Luigia stitched 1869".

Depicted is Felice Orsini (1819-1858) an Italian patriot who became famous for his attempt to assassinate Napoleon III on the 14th of January 1858 and for which he was later guillotined in Paris that same year.

The original artwork print is signed Masutti (which could be the artist Antonio Masutti, 1813-1895) and today is part of the collection of the Risorgimento Museum in Turin, Italy. The embroidered copy meanwhile, can be found with the American lady who found it at her home in North Carolina. It is unknown if the embroidery was executed in Italy or in America.


(The subject of the print is Felice Orsini making bombs of his own design in his room in England where he tested them before making the attempt on the life of the French Emperor in Paris.)

Thank so much to Susan for permission to use her photos and for the wonderful adventure of investigating this interesting piece!

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Punto Risparmiato - Split Stitch Needlepainting

When I think of Needlepainting embroidery I usually think of the Long and Short Stitch. There are many talented embroiderers around the world who make the most beautiful pictures with this stitch.

When I was first translating Italian needlework terminology, I came across Punto Risparmiato which is the Split Stitch and I noticed that traditionally and historically it seemed a lot more prevalent in Italian needlework than in North American embroidery for example. I mistakenly thought that it was old-fashioned or perhaps little used today versus during our mother's and grandmother's days. As I was searching out typically Italian needlework techniques, I basically ignored and/or discounted this stitch as not very interesting.

Boy was I wrong. Now, I don't know about other countries or even much about North America but the Italians have done some breathtaking things with Punto Risparmiato and since that is what we concern ourselves with here at Italian Needlework, let's talk a bit about that.

Punto Risparmiato is the Split Stitch as I mentioned above, but "risparmiare" is the verb "to save" as in "to economize on". If you look at the back of the work, you can see that there is not as much thread coverage on the back as there is in say, Long and Short Stitch or Satin Stitch or even Straight Stitch embroidery. Threads are expensive, especially silk threads so it makes sense to use Punto Risparmiato when creating a Needlepainting picture.

Laura Boglione of Il Club del Ricamo e Arti Femminili di Grosseto in Tuscany has recently published a didactic manual packed full of tips and advice for using Il Punto Risparmiato.

This little manual is 63 pages and has more than a dozen designs for projects as well as step-by-step big colour photos and explanations for a few other complimentary stitches to use alongside Punto Risparmiato.

One of the projects from Il Punto Risparmiato by Laura Boglione.

Clicking on the photo of the book cover will take you to where you can see a preview of a few of the book's pages.

One of four vignettes of the Tuscan countryside from the book.

I had never considered Split Stitch for Needlepainting before and it's got me thinking that maybe it's something that I could do as my own experiments with Long and Short Stitch have been a little haphazard to say the least. I think with Punto Risparmiato being a little more regulated, I would feel more comfortable and less afraid. In the introduction of the book Signora Boglione says that the stitch is quickly learned and there are very few "rules" for execution. A versatile and manageable stitch that can be used on many kinds of fabric. It is a perfect stitch for allowing freedom when executing it, thus leaving the designs open to each embroiderer's own creativity and taste.

This book is available direct from the Italian publisher NuovaS1, they take PayPal or you can get it from Lacis in the U.S.  Text in Italian.

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Estense Embroidery in Inspirations Magazine

The latest issue of the Australian embroidery magazine Inspirations is out and it is a really, REALLY nice one. Among the other beautiful projects in this issue are two little Estense Embroidery items from Elisabetta Holzer of Ferrara, Italy.

Elisabetta Holzer's Estense Embroidery projects from the latest Inspirations.

A thimble holder and a small bell-shaped ornament done in the characteristic colours of Estense Embroidery. I translated the instructions and did some stitch diagrams and I have to say it looks wonderful and I am so proud to have been a part of this! Inspirations really is the world's most beautiful embroidery magazine.

As you already know, I absolutely love Estense Embroidery so I jumped at the chance to help make this happen. I had such a good time stitching the projects (I always test out my translations if I can by making the project I'm translating or at least trying out the stitches to ensure that what I've written in English makes sense). I had never assembled something like this before but always admired those little thimble holders.

My own attempt at the thimble holder project.

There was something very enjoyable about putting these together that made me notice and miss that I haven't had much stitching time lately.

I really only needed to check the assembly instructions for the bell so mine is not as ornately embroidered as the one in Inspirations, but I like it all the same.

There is even a little book review of Elisabetta's latest manual:

If you haven't take a look at Inspirations for awhile this is definitely an issue to treasure, it is packed with so many interesting historical articles and the projects are outstanding. You can get a digital subscription or just buy one digital issue from Zinio instead of waiting for the mail.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Giuliana ricama - new needlework magazine

Last June I received an excited email from a friend in Verona with news that very soon a brand new embroidery magazine was about to come out with their first issue. My friend had met with and liked the people involved and was writing to tell me that she was sending me a copy.

There was much excited buzz online about this new magazine when the first issue was released. It was different from all its predecessors and distributed only through needlework schools. Issue "0" was free of charge!

Issue "0" of Giuliana ricama, June 2014.

Even before I received my copy I had lots of emails from Italian embroiderers asking if I knew about it, if I'd seen it yet, what did I think? Reviews were mixed. Some people were very enthusiastic, some less so. What I did hear loud and clear was that it was different from what people were used to - in every way. Change is good. The magazine had gotten people's attention and they were talking about it.

Italian embroidery magazines have traditionally tended to be beautiful. High-glossy pages full of breathtakingly beautiful masterpieces. Sparse on instructions, mostly eye-candy.

When my copy of Giuliana ricama arrived I tried to be impartial as I wanted to do a review on my blog. Large format (9 1/2" x 11 7/8") with perfect binding and a heavy card cover, it has semi-gloss paper inside and just over 100 pages. It's too big to fit in my scanner so I have to give you cropped cover pics.

The macramé beach accessories on the cover interested me. The first page inside the cover had an advertisement that promised digital download for your smart phone or tablet, this also interested me.

The letter from the editor asked for feedback, collaboration and ideas.

There was a wide variety of projects: traditional embroidery, drawn-thread work, cross-stitch, macrame, crochet, bobbin lace, trapunto, reticello, punto antico, cutwork, huck-weaving, sicilian filet lace. Traditional projects like bed linens as well as fun things like t-shirt embellishment. Relatively simple projects, nothing that seemed like years of work. The magazine seemed to me to be aimed at young women or perhaps women with younger children.

Personally, (and you know I'm interested in Italian needlework almost exclusively) while there were some Italian-needlework specific projects, I didn't think it would be a magazine for me mainly because of the level of simplicity and that I felt the projects were too "young" for me.

However, when issue No. 1 came out and I saw the cover art online with Sardinian Punt'e nù embroidery, I was curious enough to ask a friend to send me a copy. I was delighted to find that this new issue had a number of historical articles and an interview with one of the masters of Italian needlework.

Issue no. 1 of Giuliana ricama, November 2014.

I started to hear good things about the staff of the magazine from people who were meeting them at the various textile fairs and shows in Italy.

Giuliana Ricama was not distributed on newsstands but through Italian embroidery schools. If you wanted a subscription, you had to do it through your local needlework school. I liked this idea, it meant that only those who were interested had exposure to it. The down-side to this of course is that all those people who embroider at home without attending schools don't see it on the racks of their local supermarket. But really, how often do you see needlework magazines on the racks anymore? Unfortunately this also meant that those of us outside of Italy could not subscribe. I was very lucky to have a friend gift me with a subscription but I feel incredibly guilty at the cost of overseas shipping every time I receive a new issue and imagine that my friend has other things to spend her money on, but I'm grateful nonetheless that she is making it possible for me to see this magazine.

One thing I noticed immediately in this issue was that the ad promising future digital support was gone and I have since learned that they have decided not to pursue the digital subscription option.

Issue No. 2 arrived and I was happy to see that the historical articles and interviews seemed to now be regular features. The range of ideas for projects was widening, this time there were things for those people who like to do historical re-enactment costuming. Step by step photos of stitch instructions were more elaborate and numerous than previous issues. There were some more-involved and technically-advanced projects too, not just simple quickies anymore, though small projects were still offered as well.

Issue no. 2 of Giuliana ricama, February 2015.

I have to say, having seen the cover art online, I couldn't wait for Issue No. 3 to arrive. This time I was inspired to stitch more than one of the projects. There was a subscription form in this issue which meant that if you lived in Italy, you could now get your issues delivered to your home instead of your local embroidery school. The letter from the editor continued to ask for feedback and collaboration and to point out that they were implementing reader suggestions in an effort to improve the magazine with each issue. I think they are doing just that - improving with every new issue. I saw the collaboration of various embroidery schools who seemed to be abundantly submitting projects. I for one, am looking forward to seeing what the next issue holds - changed my tune, didn't I?

Issue no. 3 of Giuliana ricama, April 2015.

When I was in Italy this past April, I went to their offices to meet with the editor-in-chief Marco and the sales manager Nicoletta. We sat in a room full of boxes of needlework that had been sent to the magazine for future issue projects. I may have peaked, but I'll never tell!

The staff are very dedicated to the magazine and very much in need of support from anyone who is willing to submit projects, ideas and/or articles. Their interest is not limited to Italian needlework so this means that you can support them with any idea that you might have. Contact them here. They really do want to hear from you!

Just so I've said it, the text of the magazine is in Italian.

Giuliana Ricama website:
Giuliana Ricama Facebook page:

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Valsesian Puncetto

I was recently gifted a flight to Italy and as you can imagine, dropped everything and went. I spent Easter in Rome then travelled to Verona, Florence, Prato, Bologna and on to the Valsesia region in the north eastern part of Piedmont, at the foot of the Italian Alps.

I had never been to this region and knew it only by reputation of the beautiful Puncetto needle lace so I was very excited to be offered the chance to drive up there with a couple of friends. I immediately contacted Paola Scarrone of the Scuola di Puncetto Valsesiano in Varallo to see if I could take advantage of their program "Puncetto whenever you want" which, aside from their other didactic programs, offers you the chance of lessons when you happen to be in the area.

I had recently been in contact with Paola as she and her association were kind enough to provide photography for my latest historical article on Puncetto in the May/June 2015 issue of Piecework magazine. We set up a lesson with Angela Stefanutto who I had previously studied with at Italia Invita in 2011.

We arrived at the historic Albergo Italia in Varallo where the lesson took place and were delighted to find not only Angela but the hotel owner's wife Ornella Marchi was also a lover of Puncetto. In the hotel lobby are some framed pieces as well as wood cut designs which imitate the lace and the dining room curtains all had inserts of Puncetto, each one different from all the others.

Different Puncetto motifs in coloured thread in the lobby of the Albergo Italia.

Wooden post with magnifying glass and Puncetto in the knob at the Albergo Italia.

We spent a delightful couple of hours together and Angela kindly corrected my mistakes and misconceptions and tirelessly showed me examples of all kinds of different situations. I wish I lived closer to her so I could go to her on a regular basis. She is the very best teacher!

Angela also told me that the instructional book that she and her association had written in 2009: A Scuola di Puncetto Valsesiano had finally been reprinted and was now available for purchase (see below). I know that many of my readers had been frustrated with it's lack of availability so you will no doubt be happy to know that you can now find it.

Of the three books that they have written, this is the one you want for getting started.
After coffee, we went along to their shop the Bottega Dell'Artigianato at Corso Umberto, no. 1 in Varallo (a short walk from the hotel) where there are all kinds of local artisan items for sale including Puncetto needle lace pieces.

The shop Bottega Dell'Artigianato in Varallo.

Coloured Puncetto on the apron of a traditional costume in the Bottega Dell'Artigianato.

Puncetto collar and yoke on the blouse of a traditional costume in the Bottega Dell'Artigianato.

I purchased four small pieces of Puncetto lace and the reprint of the manual. It was so difficult to choose, there were so many beautiful things!

Back at our home base in Prato Sesia, our hostess gifted me with an exquisite framed piece of Puncetto which she had hanging in her home.

Wonderful framed Puncetto hanging on the wall in Prato Sesia before it was given to me.

You can purchase A Scuola di Puncetto Valsesiano from Tombolo Disegni.

Thank you to Bianca Rosa for the use of her photo!

Saturday, March 21, 2015

DMC Natura Just Cotton for tassel making

The last time I went to Italy in October of 2013, a friend from home asked me to get her some Lampo Cotone Povero yarn to make tassels. It proved to be a difficult task and I was unable to get her any.

We've talked about Cotone Povero before here on the blog. It is a 100% pure soft cotton yarn with a matte finish used in Italy to make tassels and for stitching Caterina de'Medici embroidery among other things. At one time in history it came in many colours but now I believe you can only get natural or white though ebay searches still turn up other colours from time to time. The balls are 50 grams at about $3.00 USD each and you can make a lot with one ball. The yarn is made up of 6 threads twisted together. It is available from various places online like Tombolo Disegni, Ricamiamo-Insieme, Bergamasco, etc. but I was unable to find it in any store I walked into in Rome, Florence or anywhere I was in Puglia. This is not to say it's not there, I just couldn't find it.

Upon returning home I was told by an Italian friend that DMC makes a soft cotton yarn which is a nice substitute called Natura Just Cotton. It comes in many colours and is available outside of Italy though not in North America that I could find at the time. I ordered mine from Sew and So in the UK.

The balls are 50 grams and the yarn is made up of 8 twisted threads. I see it is now listed on the DMC US website but internet searches for resellers still result in mostly UK sources. Price is about $4.00 USD.

Lampo Cotone Povero on the top, DMC Natura Just Cotton on the bottom.

Comparing the two yarns, they are not identical but I decided to go all the way through an experiment to see if I liked the Natura anyway. I'm not sure that you can see, but the Cotone Povero is ever-so-slightly thicker and it's hard to tell from the photo but the Natura is slightly less "matte" than the Cotone Povero.

While in Phoenix last October at the EGA National Seminar, I bought a Deruta ceramic fuserola bead that my daughter picked out for herself, she wanted a tassel to match her camera strap. I got DMC Natura in black and Sable to match the bead.

Battery operated cord twister we dubbed the "zip-zip".

Using my fantastic new favorite tool, a battery-operated cord twister developed by a lady in Assisi which we lovingly dubbed the "zip-zip" as it makes cording in a zip - I made many many twisted cords. I think the real secret to tassel-making is that when you think you have enough, make more. Tassels should be full and not skimpy.

Then the knotting process began and I knotted my cording until my fingers were beyond sore. Next step is to string the cut pieces onto yarn as you would when stringing beads, see this tutorial here. Odd numbers are best, so groups of 3, 5, 7 or 9.

7 "legs" are made up of 5 groups of 9 pieces.
There is a cluster at the top of solid Sable and I used Black to string everything together.

I'm pretty happy with the result and I like the fact that DMC Natura comes in so many colours. For tassel-making I think it is a fine substitute for Cotone Povero. Next task will be to do some experiments in using it for Caterina de'Medici embroidery. I'm a little concerned that it may be too thin for the Buratto fabric and that the coverage won't be as good, but that's for another time.

Do you know of a soft, matte finish cotton yarn available in North America that I could investigate as a substitute for Cotone Povero? If so, please leave a comment below!