Saturday, November 26, 2011

Ivana Palomba and her thesis

For several months I have been trying to figure out the best way to tell you about a very important book which was published last spring in Italy entitled: L'arte ricamata. Uno strumento di emancipazione femminile nell'opera di Carolina Amari [Embroidered Art. An instrument in the emancipation of women in the works of Carolina Amari] by Ivana Palomba.

This book is the thesis written by Ivana Palomba for her degree in History and the Protection of Art Heritage, which she has achieved later in her life, returning to complete her studies and fulfilling her dreams which were interrupted by life as we can all understand happens especially often to women.

The publication of her thesis was a prize she won from the Associazione Le Arti Tessili [The Textile Arts Association], which now forms a part of the series of titles published on the Textile Arts by scholars with the aim of bringing to light Textile Culture and it's contribution to history, the arts and/or handicrafts.

The importance of this book is difficult to understand if you don't have much historical background. Anyone who has done any research on the textile arts and especially on women's positions in the textile arts knows that historical sources are very difficult to come by. Women in general were not traditionally mentioned or counted in data that was collected by historians, their lives, if recorded at all, were often recorded only with regard to their position to the men in their lives. This book is the fruit of many years dedicated to digging up any information available about one of Italy's most important women in the world of the textile arts at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th century: Carolina Amari.

As Ivana says in her introduction: "the aim of this thesis is not only to return to Carolina Amari the honors of those arts to which she gave a new dignity between the end of the 1800s and the begining of the 1900s, but also to re-evaluate the work focalizing it as a lever of women's emancipation".

Almost nothing was known about Carolina Amari, yet she was instrumental in so many important institutions and organizations for women in Italy and also in the United States (more on that later!).

I would like to eventually tell you more about her and I understand that this book is very difficult to appreciate for those who do not understand Italian. But for those who do understand Italian and who are interested in the history of Italian needlework and it's protagonists, this text is an invaluable resource full of references. I hope to fill you in a little better in future posts.

There will be a special presentation of this book on December 3rd at the headquarters of the Associazione Le Arti Tessili at No. 4 Via Carso in Maniago, Pordenone, (in north-eastern Italy) at 11am followed by the inauguration of the headquarters at noon to be immediately followed by an Open House with lots of textile-related activities.

The book can be purchased directly from the Associazione Le Arti Tessili.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Puncetto Needle Lace Tips

I've been practising my Puncetto and it's true what they say, practise makes perfect. Well, not perfect but better! There are many pieces that I have had to abandon because I didn't count correctly, or because my tension is just too wildly different from place to place but slowly, slowly it's starting to look somewhat decent. I still seem to break or split threads quite a bit and am resolved to not force the needle in where it doesn't want to go so that I can avoid this most hardbreaking problem.

I have been diligently using my Puncetto Valsesiano book by Angela Stefanutto, Paola Scarrone and Carla Rossetti which I understand has been updated and is ready for reprinting but has been delayed due to permission difficulties with some of the photos.

I now understand that I should have followed the exercises in this book in the order that they were presented because if I'd done that, I would have understood the technique much better than skipping around and working "in the dark" so to say. If you start out and follow the (seemingly) boring first exercises, you actually understand the formula for making Puncetto work properly.

Some things that I have learned are:
  • Twist your thread in the direction you are going for each stitch. This helps tremendously and allows for longer threads lengths for things such as the selvedges where you don't want to have any thread joins. I found that I was spending more time undoing knots than doing stitches until I starting doing this for every stitch.
  • No matter how tempted you are to not start a new thread, do it when you need to and plan where to do it. While blocks of solid stitching may seem to be the easiest place to change threads, they are actually the most visible place - you can always see the bulk of the secured ends. I have found that changing threads on the return trip over some empty holes is the least noticible place to do it.
Visible joining of threads.

Less visible joining of threads.
  • Make an effort to do very tight stitches in the first couple of rows because inevitably, they end up being the loosest stitches and once you get to the top you'll notice!
  • On your return trip over empty holes, look ahead to see what will be stitched in the next row. If you have other filled holes above, then do less return stitches so that you obtain the correct amount of stitches across, I'll show you what I mean:
In this case, I did two instead of three knots to accommodate the filled hole above. Note that this number of stitches applies to small holes and that the number differs for different sized holes.
  • For even tension, when completing the stitch pull the thread up and then down in one fluid motion, this moves the knot to the lower part of the stitch and helps make all the stitches the same size and tension.
  • If you are finding that you can't seem to ever get your selvedges (top and bottom) to be the same width as the rest of your work, use a needle one size smaller when you are stitching the selvedges and switch to the bigger needle when completing the work between the selvedges. This last tip comes from Stefania of L'angolo di Stefania who patiently let me sit at her house and mangle many attempts at Puncetto.
I find that I easily let my mind wander when doing Puncetto which leads to mistakes, you must stay engaged and be thinking about what you're doing! One day I hope to have a sample which does not have any mistakes or broken threads, for now, this is my goal!

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Design Source - L'ornamentazione

There is a fantastic book of designs called L'ornamentazione [ornamentation] which was published in 1923 by the Hoepli Publishing House in Milan. Since it is now out of copyright, you can download it free from the Internet Archive.

The title page reads:
"82 plates, designs for alphabets, monograms, companies, insignias, initials, symbols, heraldic decorations, artistic embroidery and women's works, leather embossing, metal engraving. Motifs for decorators, engravers, jewellers, etc."

The photos above are just a sampling of the types of designs that are contained in this fantastic book.

Unfortunately I can find no information on the author G. Vendrame. Nor can I find any other publications by this author. If you know something about him (or her?) would you post a comment below?

The Hoepli Publishing House started with Ulrico Hoepli, a young Swiss who came to Milan in 1870. The Hoepli Publishing House would grow to become one of the most important publishing houses in Italy. It remains in the hands of the Hoepli family and is still publishing today. Many needlework and textile manuals were published by the Hoepli Publishing House at the beginning of the 20th century.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Do Italians do Cross Stitch?

In a recent email from a reader I was asked if Italians ever did any Cross Stitch and if so, what do their patterns look like?

The answer is a resounding yes!

Cross Stitch or Punto Croce or Punto in Croce as it's known in Italy is alive and well. There are many Cross Stitch designers that perhaps you already have seen their work and not realized that they were Italian.

Giulia Manfredini of Giulia Punti Antichi is the first name that comes to mind. Giulia is a wonderfully talented lady who designs the most delicious Cross Stitch patterns!

Giulia's friend Simona Bussiglieri of Mani di Donna designs Cross Stitch patterns with a decidedly antique flavour.

Simona often collaborates with Maria Teresa Vitali of MTV Designs.

Then there is Niky's Creations and the Cross Stitch designs by Nicoletta Farrauto.

Alessandra Adélaïde's designs are by now well-known in North America, as are those of Renato Parolin (link for Renato Parolin is to a fan-site of his finished designs).

Mariateresa Capo Berti has single designs or even two book collections of Cross Stitch designs. I have her book Tante Idee in un po' di Filo which has lots of lovely monochrome antique-french-style designs.

Laura Gabutti Lattuada of Passione Ricamo makes elegant Cross Stitch designs.

There are many, many others. Follow the "links" sections on any and all of the above mentioned sites for others that I have not mentioned!

There are two associations that I know of:
The Associazione Italiana del Punto Croce
Il Club del Punto in Croce

... and this Italian NING group, AmoRicamo which covers all kinds of embroidery including Cross Stitch.

If you're looking for some old Italian Cross Stitch Patterns, on used book websites, you can sometimes find a copy of Old Italian Patterns for Linen Embroidery by Frieda Lipperheide reprinted, translated and edited by Kathleen Epstein:

It is a lovely collection of folios tied up in a folder and secured with a black ribbon. There is much more than Cross Stitch patterns inside, but the Cross Stitch patterns that are there are decidedly Italian.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Tiraz - The Royal Workshops of Palermo

Here is another article that I wrote for the old Tuttoricamo website which will not be reappearing on the new blog format. The Royal Tiraz Workshops of Palermo, Italy historically produced some of the most sought-after and high-quality embroideries and textiles in the world.

“Ṭirāz - The word is borrowed from the Persian and originally means “embroidery”; it then comes to mean a robe adorned with elaborate embroidery, especially one ornamented with embroidered bands with writing upon them, worn by a ruler or person of high rank; finally it means the workshop in which such materials or robes are made.”
-- E.J. Brill’s First Encyclopaedia of Islam, 1913-1936 by M. Th Houtsma, Sir Thomas Arnold, 1987.

There are many references to the Royal Tiraz Workshops of Palermo, Sicily which are credited with some of the richest embroideries in all of history. Ernest Lefébure writes in his book, ‘Embroidery and Lace: Their manufacture and History from the remotest antiquity to the present day’, 1888, that: “The Saracens had already introduced into Sicily the art of weaving silken and golden fabrics, an industry subsequently encouraged by King Roger II.” In ‘Needlework, an illustrated history’ edited by Harriet Bridgeman, 1978 we are told that Roger II found that the Arab Tiraz workshops were “...still active, he brought Byzantine weavers to train Sicilians but continued, it is thought, to use Arab embroiderers.” In ‘Ricami Italiani Antichi e ModerniElisa Ricci writes, “In Italy the great art of embroidery started around the year 1000 in Sicily during the rule of the Saracens”.

It can be argued that the Byzantines already occupied Sicily before the Saracens who were famous for their excellent embroideries. Before the Byzantines the ancient Greeks were there, also renowned for their rich embroideries. Sicily had many conquerors and due to religious tolerance before the time of the Inquisition, many different peoples co-existed on the island and it is probable that the best of all embroiderers, weavers and silk manufacturers culminated into what became a place that produced the crème de la crème of textile work under Norman Rule. Byzantines, Saracens, Greek-Orthodox, Roman-Catholic Christians and, it is thought, also Jews each gave the flavour of their individual cultures to produce some spectacular embroideries and art objects over the centuries. Works made in the Royal Tiraz Workshops of Palermo reflect Byzantine, North African, Middle and Near East and Spanish art and with the adoption of using gold filigree, pearls and enamels, produced a new and unique style thus making them distinguishable from artifacts produced in the Tiraz workshops of other cities.

What all historians seem to agree on is that under the rule of the Norman King Roger II (reign: 1130 - 1154), the Tiraz embroideries of Palermo were much sought after for both secular and ecclesiastic uses. European crusaders passing through Sicily on their way home from the east brought with them many richly embroidered robes and clothing. This caused a great demand for these items and consequently some were manufactured in Sicily and regarded as highly prized gifts.

Lefébure tells us that King Roger II had the most skilled weavers and embroiderers from Greece brought to Palermo between 1145 - 1147 where he set up workshops. John Julius Norwich writes, “It has sometimes been claimed that they (the women silk workers - most probably Jewish - taken from Thebes) were the nucleus around which the celebrated royal silk mills of Palermo were built up. This theory does them too much honour - though they may well have introduced new techniques. Ever since the time of the Omayyads it had been the practice, in all the principal Islamic kingdoms of the East and the West as well as in Constantinople itself, to maintain a silk workshop in or near the palace for the manufacture of robes and vestments for ceremonial court occasions. Sicily was no exception, and the Palermitan silk Arabs - from whose language the Tiraz, or royal workshop, took its name. Another long established Muslim custom, however, required the ladies of the Tiraz, when not at their looms, to render other, more intimate services to the gentlemen of the Court. This tradition too the Normans, eclectic as ever, had appropriated with enthusiasm; and it was not long before the Tiraz became a useful, if slightly transparent, cover for the royal harem.

In any case, it was here that the kingdom’s silk industry was eventually controlled from start to finish, from the cultivation of the silkworm, to the spinning, weaving, dyeing, embroidering and assembly of the final products. Roger II’s court was culturally rich and prosperous and the textile art of Sicily was renowned throughout Europe.

During Roger II’s son William I’s reign (1154 - 1166), an agreement was reached between the Byzantine Empire and Sicily in which former Greek prisoners were to be returned home. Interesting to note that William returned all prisoners except the ladies of the Tiraz. Later, revolts by the populace during the reign of William I resulted in the terrible loss of many artifacts of the Tiraz kept in the palaces of Palermo, what was not carried off by looters was burned in huge bonfires.

Henry IV of Hohenstaufen not only ruled Sicily (1194 - 1197) but was also Holy Roman Emperor. He is reported to have taken the best remaining Tiraz artifacts off to Germany and the 1246 inventory of the Trifels Castle records possession of the Tiraz-made Mantle of Roger II, thus supporting this theory. Visit Racaire's blog for some great photos of this and other Tiraz artifacts now held in the Kunsthistorische Museum in Vienna.

Frederick II (reign: 1198 - 1250) wore a different mantle produced in Palermo around 1200, decorated with the eagles of Swabia, now preserved in Metz, France according to Austrian researcher Bettina Pferschy-Maleczek. The last ‘golden age’ of the Palermo Tiraz is reportedly to have been at the beginning of the 13th century. After the death of his wife, Constance of Aragon, Frederick moved his court and silk makers to Foggia (Apuglia). Constance of Aragon was buried in Palermo and an excavation in the 18th century unearthed her embroidered crown, “... made of gold thread thickly studded with pearls and jewels—rough sapphires and carbuncles, among which may be noticed a red cornelian engraved in Arabic with this sentence, ‘In Christ, God, I put my hope.’”

Surviving written sources attest to almost 100 years of uninterrupted production from the Tiraz of Palermo ranging in things from silk textiles and embroideries to gold-work, jewellery, ivory-work, woodwork and metalwork, other sources suggest a strong and exclusive tie between the royal workshops and a noble clientele. Alexander of Telese and Philagathos of Cerami, writers from the early 12th century, wrote of wall hangings, veils and the silk clothing of servants in Palermo.

Strangely, news of the Tiraz artifacts are more easily found in writings during Roger II’s reign than during the later rule of Frederick II. The 18th century opening of the tombs of Roger II, Henry VI, Constance of Hauteville, Frederick II and his wife Constance of Aragon brought about the writing of detailed documentation on the textiles of the Hohenstaufen period.

Sicily would suffer decline under French rule and after the Sicilian Vespers (1282) and the resulting war, many artisans, weavers and embroiderers fled north into Italy and the cities of Lucca, Venice, Genoa and others. Evidence suggests however, that not all the embroiderers abandoned the island, but a few continued in some way; as the famous Guicciardini Coverlets, worked in Trapunto and commissioned by a wealthy Florentine family at the end of the 1300s have been identified as Sicilian work of professional quality. During this time Sicily was under Spanish rule and many Tiraz workshops were operating in Almeria, Spain which were said to rival even the Tiraz workshops of Bagdad so it seems plausible that the Tiraz workshops of Sicily continued in some form, perhaps no longer as ‘royal workshops’. The city of Messina was known for its silk production well into the 17th century.

Roger II's Mantle. Image from the article at Wikipedia.

An official ending of the Tiraz workshops of Palermo is presumed by the transference of the Royal Court of Frederick II to Apuglia and while E.J. Brill’s First Encyclopaedia of Islam says that the Tiraz workshops in Palermo produced woven silks until the 13th century; an article in Vol. 1, No. 5 of The Brochure Series of Architectural Illustration cites the 16th century. There is undoubtably much further research to be done on this point.

The Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna, Austria holds a number of items produced at Palermo, among which are: King Roger II’s Mantle which is dated 1133-1134 according to the embroidered Arabic inscription. It is the oldest surviving evidence of the Tiraz in Palermo. The Blue Dalmatic dates from the mid 12th century; the Alb was made in Palermo in 1181 for King William II (reign: 1166 - 1189) and his stockings; these pieces passed to Frederick II and the Alb was further embellished for his coronation as Holy Roman Emperor in 1220; there are also a pair of shoes and gloves and a few other items all richly embroidered in gold, pearls and jewels which are attributed to Sicily.

In 2004 the Kunsthistorisches Museum exhibited it’s collection in an exhibition entitled: NOBILES OFFICINAE, The Royal Workshops in Palermo during the Reigns of the Norman and Hohenstaufen Kings of Sicily in the 12th and 13th century. The event was organized with the Soprintendenza per i Beni Culturali e Ambientali di Caltanissetta and was joined by a companion exhibition in Palermo at the Palazzo dei Normanni. Here is a 9 minute YouTube video presentation.

Palazzo dei Normanni, Palermo. Image taken from the article on the palazzo at Wikipedia.

A catalogue of the exhibit (in German) is still available from the Kunsthistorisches museum store, there is also an Italian/English text of two volumes which can be found at used booksellers. It is indispensable as a reference on this particular subject. One of the results of these exhibitions was that textile fragments from Milan, Darmstadt, Paris and Brussels were brought together and identified as pieces from the Tiraz of Palermo.

Photos of other examples of surviving embroidery attributed to Palermo can be found in Paolo Peri’s book, ‘Storia e Arte del Ricamo, Il Punto di Casalguidi’ (2007) which include an Altar-frontal, a Cope and the Funeral Cushion of St. Francis of Assisi. Recent carbon dating has confirmed that the Funeral Cushion of St. Francis is of the correct period and Mr. Peri hypothesizes is that it may have been donated by John of Brienne, King of Jerusalem (reign: 1210 - 1215) and Emperor of Constantinople (reign: 1229 - 1237), who had actually met St. Francis in Damietta between 1219 and 1220. (John of Brienne’s daughter Yolande married Frederick II Holy Roman Emperor, in 1225.)

Further Reading:
A Thousand Years in Sicily, by Giuseppe Quatriglio, 2005.
Embroidery and Lace: Their manufacture and history from the remotest antiquity to the present day, by Ernest Lefébure, 1888.
E.J. Brill’s First Encyclopaedia of Islam, 1913-1936 by M. Th Houtsma, Sir Thomas Arnold, 1987.
Needlework, an illustrated history, edited by Harriet Bridgeman, 1978 .
Nobiles Officinae: Perle, Filigrane E Trame Di Seta Dal Palazzo Reale Di Palermo, Vol. I & II, by Maria Andaloro, 2006.
Ricami Italiani Antichi e Moderni, by Elisa Ricci, 1925.
Sicily: Three Thousand Years of Human History, by Sandra Benjamin, 2006.
Storia e Arte del Ricamo Il Punto di Casalguidi, by Paolo Peri, 2007.
The Brochure Series of Architectural Illustration. Volume 01, No. 05, May 1895, Two Florentine Pavements, BATES & GUILD, BOSTON, MASS.
The Normans in Sicily, by John Julius Norwich, 1992.
The Silk Industry of Renaissance Venice, by Luca Molà, 2000.
Travels with a Medieval Queen, by Mary Taylor Simeti, 2001.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Ars Panicalensis - Purses

What do you think of when you think of Embroidery on Tulle? Do you think of Church vestments? Bridal veils? Christening gowns? How about purses?

Paola Matteucci, the extraordinarily talented needleworker from Panicale in the province of Perugia, Italy, has created an incredibily beautiful batch of purses with her Ars Panicalensis Embroidery on Tulle technique. She hand-dyes the cotton fabrics and tulle with natural dyes.

Purses at the Ars Panicalensis booth at Italia Invita 2011. Photo copyright Ricamo Ars Panicalensis.

I saw some of these lovely creations at the 2011 Italia Invita Forum in Parma last May, there was always a crowd around the Ars Panicalensis booth and during one of the workshops the TV station was there with their video cameras so I hope Paola received some good exposure for her Art.

Later this year at the Valtopina XIII Embroidery and Fabric Show there were more exquisite purses to see, done in Ars Panicalensis.

Ars Panicalensis purses at the Valtopina 2011 show. Photo copyright .

The intricate embroidery of Ars Panicalensis and the designs that come from Paola Matteucci are breathtaking and, if possible, they get more so with every new creation!

Detail of a piece of Ars Panicalensis at the EGA National Seminar in 2010.

The town of Panicale has its own Tulle Museum where from October 27, 2011 to January 8, 2012 there is an exhibit on Pinocchio and the most important imitations featuring antique and modern marionettes and toys and fairytales embroidered on Tulle.