Sunday, May 8, 2016

Bargello Embroidery

Bargello Embroidery seems to be enjoying a bit of a revival lately on both sides of the Atlantic. I've seen lots of it through the various North American needlework guilds and also on Facebook among Italian stitchers. The designs, patterns, colours and use of imagination are wonderful and a delight to look at.

This technique goes by many names: Flame stitch, Hungarian point, Bargello, Florentine stitch, Gobelin stitch, Irish stitch and many others. There is a fascinating English language article on possible origins, different styles and extant examples that you can download and read here.

For the Italian take on it, a Google search for "punto fiamma" produces some spectacular examples. It is a technique used often for upholstery on things such as chairs and cushions, if you pay attention in the Italian museums, there are sometimes chairs set around the perimeter of the rooms which are cordoned off so you can't sit on them. These are easily passed by and ignored but close inspection can reveal some wonderful Bargello embroideries which have faded and deteriorated over time but which are still great examples of very complex Bargello embroidery patterns.

If you are looking to stitch a little taste of many Bargello designs, have a look at this wonderful sampler by Maria Elide Melani of the association Ago, Aga e Fantasia of Pistoia, Italy.

Each section is a different Bargello pattern separated by drawn thread channels. I like this idea as then you don't have to worry about trying to work out how to have your various patterns butt up neatly against others, and the drawn thread work creates some definition to the sampler itself.

The pattern booklet (text in Italian) is available from Maria Elide herself, send her an email or contact her via her Facebook page. Please note that the drawn thread work and hemming is not explained in the booklet.

There are 21 different Bargello patterns to stitch with lovely close up photos of the finished embroideries to copy from. You could then easily adapt any one of the patterns for a towel border or for placemats or whatever your heart desires!

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Tassel books!

Maria Rita Faleri has been hard at work creating a series of books on handmade knotted tassels. In this post I told you a little bit about Maria Rita and since then we have been chatting back and forth during the development of this great series that she has started. As I also wanted to let you know how to get your hands on these books, I have been holding off telling you about them while Maria Rita worked out how people outside of Italy could purchase them easily. She has settled on ebay which seems to work quite nicely. Those of you who are in Italy can contact her through the Esemplario website, set up specifically for this series.

Maria Rita wanted to start this series with the aim of creating step-by-step manuals for these tassels and the knots used to create them in Italian. She felt that there wasn't a lot in the way of instructions for Italians which meant that they had to refer to books in other languages, so the text of these books is in Italian. However, the step-by-step photos mean that those who don't speak Italian can easily understand. I did translate the instructions for the Turk's Head knot and Maria Rita plans to put it on the Esemplario website just as soon as she can.

The first book in the series is about making tassels with the Turk's Head knot (and many variations of it including an elongated one which is quite nice to use as the tassel head):

Sample page of step-by-step photos.

To make the Turk's Head knot, Maria Rita uses the aid of bamboo sticks and I managed to find some double-pointed carbonized bamboo knitting needles on amazon which work very nicely though they are not exactly the same as what Maria Rita uses, they work just fine. Before I found these though, I just used kebab sticks and they worked too, though I got a few splinters.

Included in this book are instructions for the basic Turk's Head knot, the elongated Turk's Head knot, the wrapped knot and instructions for the assembly of a half a dozen different tassels using what you've learned.

The second book in the series is about making tassels with the Franciscan Knot and the Simple Knot:

Some of the tassels included in the second book.

This book also has instructions for the basic Turk's Head knot, much more detailed instructions for the wrapped knot, different tassel head ideas and assembly instructions for a dozen different tassels and some bomboniere too! Many more applications spring to mind just leafing through the pages.

Maria Rita has other plans for this series, not just tassels but embroidery techniques as well. Different projects will be released separately as leaflets or kits using the techniques from the books. I personally can't wait to see them and will let you know when they are available. You can purchase these books from searching for object number 131794775737 for the Turk's Head book and object number 131794778449 for the Franciscan Knot book. If you are in Italy, you can contact her via email.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Rare Needle Lace Patterns

I'm so excited to tell you about a booklet that has just come out. It is a facsimile reprint of a rare 16th century needle lace pattern book currently held in the public library of Forlì, Italy.

Besides 44 plates of needle lace patterns, there is also the story describing the rediscovery of this particular copy and its significance as well as detailed information on the very few other surviving copies. There is some controversy as to the true author of the patterns and the editor of this reprint, Bianca Rosa Bellomo, lays out all the known facts and hypotheses - it is a fascinating read. There are few words about the structure of the designs and then some highlights as to the subject matter of the patterns themselves with respect to the heraldry and symbolism represented. All text is accompanied by precise footnotes and there is a valuable and detailed bibliography for further study.

The first plate is a design incorporating the coats of arms of the Gonzaga and Este families as the original pattern book was dedicated to Margherita Gonzaga d'Este (1564-1618) the Duchess of Ferrara at the time.

Margherita Gonzaga d'Este. Photo from Wikipedia.

The imperial eagles belong to the Este coat of arms; the siren is an antique symbol to exalt the gifts of song or to indicate an important woman; at the top there is an Este eagle and at the sides, lions rampant are resting on the Gonzaga crown.

The booklet is 60 pages and the text is in Italian and English. It can be purchased direct from the publisher, check out their website, they take PayPal. As Lacis in Berkeley, California is their North American distributor, you can contact them to request a copy. Remember that the book was just released in Italy so it may be a little while before it is available on this side of the ocean.

Monday, March 28, 2016

Needlework Challenge - Valtopina 2016

I really like needlework challenges, I think they bring out some great creativity and it is always interesting to see how people interpret a theme differently. This fall, September 2, 3 and 4 to be exact, the Hand Embroidery and Artisan Textile show in Valtopina, Italy (in the Umbrian region) is running a challenge which is open to international entries.

The theme is Embroider Umbria: blades of grass and flowers for women's rights. To remember victims of abuse and violence against women, the celebration of the wildflowers of Umbrian meadows and hills. The "thread" of a message from Umbria to express the value of feminine identity, of women's freedom "to be and to do" and to share in the commitment of the defence of their rights.

Sounds like a great theme, don't you think?

Umbrian meadows - photo courtesy of the Scuola di Ricamo Valtopina.

Umbrian hills - photo courtesy of the Scuola di Ricamo,Valtopina.

To get some ideas of which flowers are found in the Umbrian countryside, you can explore some websites like Castelluccio di Norcia, or there is a list of Italian and Latin names here, or do a Google search for "Apennine wildflowers".

Entries will be judged on September 4th, 2016 during the 17th edition of the Hand Embroidery and Artisan Textile Show in Valtopina. This is a much anticipated textile show every year and there are workshops and vendors to keep you busy aside from the exhibits. If you get a chance to go, don't miss a trip to the Embroidery and Textile Museum.

The prizes for the challenge are pretty fabulous:
1st prize is an all inclusive weekend for two in Umbria,
then, there will be a prize from the Manifattura tessile Sotema who make great fabrics,
a prize from Flli. Graziano who make great fabrics too,
a prize from Grigoletto Filati who make embroidery threads,
a prize of 30 ct Valtopina needlework linen from Bergamasco which is a fantastic needlework shop,
a prize of local products from the ProLoco Valtopina,
a prize from the Municipality of Valtopina,
an Artistic Craft prize from the artist Giulio Piermatti and participation certificates for all who enter.

Click on the picture below for the official rules and guidelines for entering the challenge:

Or you can send an email to Maria Mancini, check out the show's website for photos of previous years' challenges. Your entry must be received no later than July 31st, 2016.

I look forward to seeing the entries to this years challenge!

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Embroidery on Tulle - books, books!

Well, an interesting few months have kept me from posting and the stack on my floor of books and other ideas for blog posts has grown into a mountain! While I have not had a moment to post, I have not in the least forgotten you!

I have posted about Ars Panicalensis before and I want to tell you about the latest developments of Paola Matteucci and her fabulous applications of this beautiful Italian needlework.

Traditional Ars Panicalensis is a whitework technique embroidering on tulle.

Paola produced a detailed manual in 2013, the cover of which is shown above. It is an extensive step-by-step tome of some 130 pages. While the text is in Italian, the photos are very clear:

I have had the good fortune to see Paola's work up close and it is truly breathtaking. I will never forget the bridal veil... I have a kit of hers for a cushion cover waiting for me to find the time and I managed to purchase a scissor case and fob, just to have a piece of this exquisite technique to appreciate at home.

While Paola excels at the traditional, she also has an eye to innovation. She has developed works of art embroidering on coloured tulle with silks and wool threads!

Her second book is 40 pages of combinations of Ars Panicalensis, Bandera Embroidery and Crewel work... on black tulle. The effect is so pleasing to the eye! This book concerns itself with the use of wool, specifically the fine wool of the French company La Route de la Laine, I think we know it as Fine d'Aubusson here in North America.

This time, the text of the book is in Italian and English! The English having been translated by British ex-pat Patricia Girolami who lives in Italy and runs her own embroidery school. She has translated many Punto Antico books for the Edizioni Punto Antico.

The title of this latest book is "Coloured Wool 1" so I hope this means that there will be a series to come and perhaps even one about her adventures with silk threads on tulle. Paola's talents are inspiring and I look forward to seeing what she does next!

Both Embroidery on Tulle books are available directly from the author Paola Matteucci's website and she excepts PayPal.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Snowflakes II: Guest Post with Gioja Ralui

Last year Gioja Ralui, author of the books Sardinian Knot Stitch (in English) and Punto Annodato Sardo (in Italian) appeared here and elsewhere as a guest to present a freebie snowflake pattern, this year she goes a step further to present a project of snowflakes! If you would like to read this post in Italian, please go to either blog: ricamo e... altro or TuttoRicamo. I turn the blog over to her, so she can tell you all about it:

Christmas Table Mat

As was done last year, also for this Christmas 2015 I would like to offer my Sardinian Knot Stitch pattern. It is a table mat on beige Assisi linen embroidered in the classic Christmas color: red.

As you can see it is a cascade of snowflakes of various sizes, each one different from the other. They are all enclosed in a frame of a simple zig zag with the 'gruxittasa' (remember that the 'x' must be read as the French 'j') pattern in each corner and in the middle of each side. [gruxittasa means 'the crosses' in Sardinian] Finally, to complete the project, some drawn-thread work (removing two fabric threads): the simple hem stitch for securing the hem and along the edge, the arches with picots that make up the classic edging of Sardinian Knot Stitch works.

Information on how to realize the hem with the mitred corners and the simple hemstitch can be found in large quantities in the internet. I limit myself to a couple of suggestions:
mitred corners
simple hemstitch
However if these do not seem comprehensive enough, type in a search engine 'tutorial mitred corners' and 'tutorial simple hemstitch' and you will find everything you need.

Some of the snowflakes on this embroidered table mat were published in my book Sardinian Knot Stitch and are not repeated here. I would like to remind readers that in it you will find all the instructions for the work, both with regard to the stitch execution and the needle lace edging. Remember too, that the proceeds from sales go to charity. Last year over $2,500.00 US dollars were donated to the Catholic Mission of Camp Garba in Kenya allowing kids to to attend school in the area. I wonder if this year you will help me achieve the same result?

As I mentioned above, for the execution of the table mat, 28ct Assisi linen fabric in beige with Anchor Ritorto Fiorentino no. 12 pearl cotton, colour no. 47 was used. The dimensions of the fabric are: 41 cm x 33.5 cm which includes the 1.5 cm to be folded back on each side to form the hem.

In the photo below, numbers have been assigned to facilitate the recognition of the snowflakes in relation to the corresponding patterns:

Due to space limitations and in order to not go on too long, the patterns indicated with numbers: 1, 2, 3a and 3b are not included here but can be found, respectively, on pages 55, 53 and 56 of the book.

Below are the patterns of the other previously unpublished snowflakes:

Snowflakes numbered 4, 5 and 6.

Snowflakes numbered 7 and 8.

And finally, snowflake number 9 and the patterns for the frame of zig zag with gruxittasa which is executed 1 cm to the inside of the drawn-thread work hemstitching. 

One last tip: although I realize that each of us has his own method of working: I do the hemstitching first (but the arches I leave until last) because it helps me with the placement of the rest of the embroidery... but it is not written in stone that you must do it this way!

Of course the placement of the snowflakes may be distributed in different ways depending on personal tastes, or the composition may also be reduced with regard to the number of snowflakes themselves. Furthermore they may be used differently: to decorate placemats, for example, or used individually (obviously only in the case of the tiniest ones) to make small Christmas gifts such as bookmarks or Christmas tree ornaments... Projects to achieve all of these suggestions can be found in the book Sardinian Knot Stitch.

Happy Stitching!

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Crochet Cotton for Needlework

Using Crochet Cotton thread for needlework is something that different types of Italian needlework call for. Crochet Cotton is a twisted mercerized cotton thread. It is not shiny the same as Pearl Cotton but does have a sheen to it. It gives a different effect to the embroidery. There are various weights and I've done some experimenting with it for tassels, using DMC Baroque and Natura but until recently, I've never tried it for embroidery.

DMC Babylo #10 ecru thread on 38 ct Sotema 20L linen.

Here is a sample of Sardinian Knot Stitch done on 18ct fabric with Anchor Crochet Cotton and DMC Pearl Cottons (click on the photo for a closer look):

When telling you about Giuseppa Federici's new book here, I mentioned that it called for Crochet Cotton and that in Italy (and other parts of the world) both DMC and Anchor offer a decent colour range in their crochet cottons. Alas they do not offer the same threads in North America and so I set about hunting down some Crochet Cotton in lots of colours.

A kind friend from Italy sent me some Anchor Freccia #12 which is similar in weight the #10 Crochet Cotton we can find in North America. Then I found some DMC Babylo #10 on a UK website that I have ordered from often for other things. They appear almost identical in thickness. Pretty close to Pearl Cotton #5 but a bit thinner. Please note that I could not try all of DMC's products like Cebelia and Traditions or Coats Aunt Lydia's because I could not find them locally in colours that I wanted and there were only so many funds I wanted to spend on online ordering for an experiment. The point of my experiment was really to find a #10 Crochet Cotton in the widest range of colours possible. There are other products available in North America that you can try.

An internet search led me to a website called Handy Hands which sells a line of various weights and colours of 100% Egyptian cotton cordonnet thread called Lizbeth. It comes in 102 solid colours, 87 variegated colours and 10 colours which are a mix of three different colours twisted together. Handy Hands is based out of Paxton, Illinois, though they do not have a bricks and mortar storefront.

Now, Anchor or DMC #10 Crochet Cotton which is what I was looking to match, is made of 3 threads twisted together. Lizbeth thread is made of 6 threads twisted together so obviously the look of the Lizbeth thread is a bit different but I decided to see if it would be a suitable substitution.

I wrote and asked them if they could help me match some samples of Anchor and DMC colours that I had gotten from Italy. They answered right away and gave me some matches but it's difficult to match from photos so in the end, I mailed them my thread samples because there just isn't anything better than having something in your hand when you're trying to match colours!

I have to say, Handy Hands' customer service is excellent. They must have looked up the colours as soon as my samples arrived because, allowing for cross-border mailing, it was no time at all before I received colour-matches for all the colours I asked about. These colours are for a project which I will tell you about in a different post.

The Lizbeth #10 thread is the same thickness as my Anchor and DMC threads but because it is made up of three sets of 2 threads twisted together, it's a little like stitching with a cord instead of a thread.
I did three lines of stitches: stem stitch, chain stitch and Palestrina Knot stitch. The top or first line of each set is the Anchor Freccia and the other is the Lizbeth.

Anchor Freccia #12 and Lizbeth #10 on Zweigart 36 ct Edinburgh linen.

There is a bit of difference in sheen and of course the twist, but overall, I'd say it's an excellent substitute! I love the way the thread sits up on the fabric for a very textural embroidery. I'm thinking Palestrina EmbroideryParma Embroidery, Umbrian Embroidery, even traditional embroidery when you want to create a more rustic, raised effect.

Lizbeth thread is distributed worldwide, they have a list of distributors online for a store near you or you can order directly from their website. Signing up for their newsletter before December 31, 2015 gets you free shipping in the US.

Much thanks to Barbara at Handy Hands for her infinite patience, valuable insight and quick, efficient service!