Friday, September 18, 2015

Three in One - new book!

The latest book from Giuseppa Federici revisits three techniques: Ars Aesis, Catherine de'Medici Embroidery and Buratto drawn-thread work.

This volume is 64 pages beginning with a little bit of history on Catherine de'Medici Embroidery, then some background on Buratto drawn-thread work and some instructions on how to do it and the things you'll need in general followed by a small ornament project which is used to explain how to execute the withdrawn area and fill it with a motif done in the linen stitch. There are a good 7 pages of step-by-step photos so if you don't speak Italian, you'll still get it. Ornament embellishment and assembly finish this section.

There are then seven projects combining Catherine de'Medici and Buratto drawn-thread work - some lovely border treatments here as well. After that are several pages of charted patterns for both techniques to be used with your own imagination to create other lovely things with the project of a small clasped purse to get you going.

Commercial Buratto fabric is loosely woven evenweave linen with about 16-18 threads per inch so withdrawing threads to create a netted ground lends itself beautifully to larger design areas which are completed relatively quickly. It goes fabulously with Catherine de'Medici Embroidery creating delights of light and dark areas of design.

The final section is on Ars Aesis and here you'll find several pattern designs, projects, borders and edgings though you'll need her first book for detailed instructions on how to execute some of the needle lace edgings. Just so I've said it, the text is all in Italian.

Now, you know how I love textured embroidery! I just had to get out my needle and thread to try one of the borders which I had previously admired in the first book:

Ars Aesis uses no. 10 crochet cotton for thread which provides a different finish from pearl cotton. In Europe, both DMC and Anchor market quite a few colours in this type of thread (DMC Babylo no. 10 and Anchor Freccia no. 12) however I'm having some difficulty sourcing much on this side of the pond.

If you know anywhere in North America which sells DMC Babylo no. 10 or Anchor Freccia no. 12 in anything other than white and ecru, would you leave a comment below?

In Europe you can purchase this book by bank transfer directly from the author herself
Tombolo Disegni has it for those of us not in Europe, it can be found in the section of books with Catherine de'Medici Embroidery.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Ferragamo and the needle lace of Tavarnelle

From a private collection in Florence, since donated to the Salvatore Ferragamo Museum.

The following is an English version of my latest column in the Italian needlework magazine Giuliana Ricama issue no. 6. A couple of things to note: the Salvatore Ferragamo Museo in Florence gave me photos to include in the publication but I did not ask for permission to publish them here, so I do not include them with this translation. If you want to see them, obviously if you are in Italy you can get the magazine or go to the museum but you can also check out their website or you can explore the 20th century archives of the Ministry of Goods and Cultural Activities website.

From a private collection in Florence, since donated to the Salvatore Ferragamo Museum.

“There is no limit to beauty, no saturation point in design, no end to the materials a shoemaker may use to decorate his creations so that every woman may be shod like a princess and a princess may be shod like a fairy queen.” -- Shoemaker of Dreams. The Autobiography of Salvatore Ferragamo, London 1957, Italian edition 1971, edited by S. Ricci.

At the end of the 1920s Salvatore Ferragamo (1898-1960), known Italian fashion designer and founder of the fashion house of the same name, decided he wanted to use needle lace on a few models of his shoes. The nearby small towns of Tavarnelle, Mercatale and Greve, located between Florence and Siena, were centres of lace production in those days. Several models were created using the work done by local embroiderers in their own homes. Tavarnelle lace was used by Ferragamo again in the 1930s and 1950s and his big innovation was the use of colour in the needle lace. Some shoe models were called the Anna, Carina, Iride, Merletto and Sofia.

Ferragamo shoe model from 1930-1932.

Thanks to Mr. Ferragamo, the lacemakers of Tavarnelle embroidered for the most famous women of the day like Sophia Loren, Anna Magnani, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, Elisabeth Taylor, Audrey Hepburn and many more.

In the archives of the Salvatore Ferragamo Museum in Via Tornabuoni, Florence are models of shoes and sandals decorated with the lace of Tavarnelle but unfortunately nothing is displayed in the museum's permanent exhibition. You can however write to the museum and make an appointment to study them.

In 1906 a nun named Arcangela Banchelli arrived in Greve in Chianti and, being acquainted with the technique of needle lace, taught it to the students of the embroidery school which was one of the activities cared for by the Order of the Servants of Our Lady of Sorrows.

Over time, the fame of this lace arrived in Florence and very soon it was popular with the companies who created trousseaux. The first commissions came from them but soon commissions were also arriving from private individuals. At one time every girl in the area had tablecloths, curtains and other household linen items in their trousseaux decorated with the lace of Tavarnelle. In the beginning the lace was quite complex but over time, due to the high commercial demand, it became more simplified in order to reduce production time.

Two doilies of Tavarnelle lace from my collection.
Tavarnelle lace derives from Venetian needle lace but has a technical preparation more similar to Aemilia Ars needle lace from Bologna. The design is drawn on wax paper which is placed on top of 5-6 layers of butcher paper and all layers are then basted together around the outer edge. Then support stitches are added to aid in the working of the lace. Typical motifs worked are geometric shapes, flowers and leaves, small animals, religious symbols, initials and the figures of a man and woman. After the work is finished, the support stitches are cut on the back side and the lace is removed from the support.

About five years ago a lady named Carla Cantoni from San Casciano Val di Pesa decided to recreate an old design of a Ferragamo shoe with Tavarnelle lace for her own personal use:

Created for private use by Carla Cantoni, San Casciano Val di Pesa.
These shoes were created using Ritorto Fiorentino pearl cotton no. 12 and took approximately 90-100 hours to create the lace. Aren't they lovely?

In 2002 Ebe Ciampalini Balestri published a small volume (in Italian) on this technique called: Il "Punto Tavarnelle", e dintorni... It is still available direct from the Pro Loco di Tavarnelle tel: 055 8077832.

Thank you very much to Blandina for the use of her photos of her mother's shoes which she donated to the Salvatore Ferragamo Museum and to Carla for the photos of the lovely shoes that she made for herself.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Sardinian Knot Stitch in Inspirations Magazine

The new edition (#87) of Inspirations magazine is out and nestled amongst all the lovely projects you'll find a book weight project done in Punt'e nù embroidery from Teulada, Italy.

While a book weight is a break from traditional use for this embroidery, the pattern is authentic and features a pair of cockerels back-to-back with an almond motif between them. The pattern also features the pomegranate motif and the teeth border.

The book weight is also double-sided, done in the reverse colours on the other side:

You can use a book weight to keep your pattern books open when stitching or to keep your embroidery frame on a table while you work on an area that hangs out over the edge.

They make great gifts and are a nice size for experiencing a small sample of Punt'e nù embroidery!

Also in this issue of Inspirations is a lovely review of the English version of the book Sardinian Knot Stitch. This book is also available in an Italian version. Both books are available through Amazon.

Thank you Inspirations for doing such a beautiful layout for this little project!

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Punto Antico 20th Anniversary and a new book

The Associazione Il Punto Antico is celebrating their 20th anniversary this year and commemorate it with a new book (in English and Italian!) of projects on this lovely needlework technique.

From the introduction:
Twenty years of passion: 1995-2015. In this book you will find the latest work and designs, some simple, others more complex, with in-depth explanations for their realization and all the designs charted. The embroidery is coloured and the worked articles are cheerful, adapted for young houses, a little informal... You will also find some photos from our early exhibitions, a testimony of the route which we took.
Twenty years of research, of study, of elaboration and the teaching of Italian Openwork are an important goal, at which I never thought to arrive. It is thanks to my students, to their affection, and to their friendship that these years have flown by and I would like, on this occasion, to embrace everyone.
---Bruna Gubbini

The book proposes 11 projects: a lampshade, table sets, curtains, runners, a cushion, towels; there are 16 different embroidery stitches described; lots of large colour photos to show off this latest batch of tasteful, very modern designs.

It has been interesting to see the evolution of Signora Gubbini's interpretations of this technique over the years and I must confess that I have all of her books. I find her immensely good at colour combinations and designs which are tasteful and refined while at the same time modern and cheerful. And while I personally love traditional designs and works, I can seriously consider Signora Gubbini's latest designs for gifts for the younger people in my life. That way I can have the best of both worlds: the joy of stitching the project and then that of delighting a friend or family member with a tasteful gift.

The English translation is done by Patricia Girolami, a British embroiderer who now lives in Italy for some years who is well acquainted with this needlework.

These designs are not traditional Punto Antico patterns in the historical sense and they use many stitches from other embroidery techniques not necessarily associated traditionally with Punto Antico so if you are looking to approach this technique from a strictly traditional point of view, I suggest you start with their first book.

You can purchase this or any of the many other books that the Associazione Il Punto Antico has produced through their website:

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Knots and Tassels and Maria Rita Faleri

The other day a beautiful photo meant for someone else came across my newsfeed which sparked a revisit for me to the Turk's Head Knot and tassels. For me its not the bright and shiny things that distract me, its the textile textural things... and Deruta beads...

Exceptional isn't it? It's creator is Maria Rita Faleri and she lives in Fermo in the Marche region of Italy which is located near the eastern coastline, pretty much in the middle of Italy: a little north of Rome, a little south of Florence.

Now, I knew a little bit about her and we've corresponded a couple of times about other things over the years and I told you about her wonderful Tassel book here. We started chatting about the tassel above and then another...

and another...

I mentioned that I had abandoned the Turk's Head knot which is what those little knots are and she helped me discover where I had gone wrong. I love the internet. She was nearly 9000 kilometres away and 9 hours ahead in time difference but within a few quick comments of a chat, she had made the lightbulb go on in my head.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with the instructions in her book, it was me that missed an important step. Looking at them now, they make perfect sense.

We started to chat about other things. Maria Rita is part of a cultural association in Fermo called Il Filo Che Conta (a little play on words: the thread that counts) where she teaches (among other techniques) Catherine de' Medici embroidery and knotted tassels. She edited the book on Catherine de' Medici embroidery that you'll find when you follow this link. She also wrote a book on marking stitches called Punti di Marca a few years ago.

Maria Rita told me that she will have a booth at the Abilmente trade show in Vicenza, Italy this October. It's one of the fairs that I'd love to go to one day, I really need to plan to be in Italy one autumn. Her booth is under her association's name: Il Filo Che Conta and you can find it in the Embroidery Salon area. She will have her books and materials for Catherine de' Medici embroidery, Bobbin Lacemaking and of course Tassels! Maria Rita will be there for demonstrations and she has made new kits for the three tassels you see above plus this one:

And also this adorable little bunch of grapes:

Inside the kits are the instructions, needle and threads plus two sizes of tiny wooden sticks which help in the execution of the knots. I want them all! Maria Rita tells me that this fair Abilmente is the only one she exhibits at and what she earns during the show helps keep her cultural association afloat.

Here is a report from a previous Abilmente show in 2012 where you can see some of Maria Rita's beautiful tassels displayed absolutely marvellously:

Photo copyright Gabriela Trionfi of

If you are in Italy and go to Abilmente, please leave a comment below and tell us how it was. Drop by the Il Filo Che Conta booth and say hello to Maria Rita for me...

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!