Saturday, December 24, 2011

Circular Filet Netting

Photo copyright Filet in Tondo.

Enza Termine has updated her website and added some more photos of her exquisite Circular Filet Netting works.

There is a tutorial [in Italian but there is a Google Translate button on the website] on how to get started with Circular Filet Netting and if you were put off because you didn't know what to make besides a doiley which may not go with your home decor, browse through her galleries to be inspired for other projects!

I love her Nativity Scenes!

Photo copyright Filet in Tondo.

I hope this Holiday Season finds you exploring Italian Needlework and perhaps it is inspiring you to try new techniques in the New Year.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Puncetto Snowflake - Part Three

Continuing on with our little Puncetto Snowflake (see Part One and Part Two), we left off last time finishing up the top selvedge.

When you get to the top and do your last two stitches in the last hole, continue on and join the selvedges with two more rows of two stitches, this time hooking into the stitches of the previous selvedge as shown below:

Second-to-last row.

Last row, return to the extreme right edge.

Turning the work back 90 degrees, it looks like this.
If you're done here, you can just make a small stitch to secure both thread ends in the corners and trim the excess. You could put your Puncetto Snowflake into one of those cards that have a cut-out area on the front inserting perhaps a red, blue or green background and send it off to your favourite stitching friend.

Or, you can finish the edge as you would if you were going to insert your snowflake into a piece of fabric. This makes a nice lacy edge even if you're not inserting it. Doing the edging also hides imperfections in your selvedges and somehow stretches the piece out and back to square if it has become warped in the stitching process.

To add the edging, we're going to continue on with the thread from where we left off at the corner.

The outer lacey edging is just like making the small holes as we did in the first and last rows of our design. Skip one stitch and insert your needle into the next, leaving a bit of a loop do a hooking on stitch and two return stitches to form a column. Continue on to the end of the row. For this design, you should end up with 17 loops (or small holes) because we have 34 stitches along the edge and we're putting a column in every second stitch. I turned the work so that my stitching is along the top, I find it easier to work this way.

Here we are at the end of the first edge with 17 loops or small holes.
Turn the work and insert the needle into the same hole to form another column at a 90 degree angle with a loop which spans the corner:

Continue on in the same manner as before and make 17 loops or small holes along each edge until you meet up to where you began:

Here you will need to insert the needle into the same stitch as the previous column so that you can form the corner loop. Do your hooking on stitch taking care to make your corner loop the same size as the others. Then take your needle behind both vertical threads and do two return stitches to form a single column. You end up with your needle and thread in front of your stitching instead of behind it where you normally would be. Pass the needle through the corner loop to take your thread to the back.

Here we are, all finished our Puncetto Snowflake!

I soaked mine overnight in some Marsiglia soap (as it's called in Italian) to whiten it back up. I had a few blood stains to get rid of for which the best remedy is your own spit - no really! It works like a charm. Then I ironed my snowflake face down on a towel. To finish my thread ends, I just did a really small stitch on the back with both thread ends on either corner and trimmed the excess thread.

I'd love to hear from you if you found this a useful exercise, and even if you did not, please post below!

Friday, December 16, 2011

Puncetto Snowflake - Part Two

Since I posted part one of this Puncetto Snowflake I have broken three threads! Luckily they were in places where they were more or less easily hidden. If you look for them, you'll probably find them but I was not going to start this again for the 5th time!

From where we left off, I wanted to show you what it looked like when I started to fill my first small square as I was showing you the small holes before that:

The two threads on the right are where I changed threads on my return trip and will be trimmed when they are more secure.
Following along the pattern, I worked my way up to the top where I needed to think about the steps ahead. As we will not be doing a return row in the normal way for the last row of small holes at the top, we need to change threads for a fresh and long new thread somewhere in the second-to-last row so that we will have enough to complete the top selvedge and the loops around the edge if we want them for inserting our snowflake into a piece of fabric or if we just want a lacey edge.

This is the second-to-last-row completed. You can see where I changed threads on the return row (at the right) and I've done my two rows of stitches on the left selvedge to begin the last row of small holes - exactly the same as the first row we did down at the bottom.
After having completed the forward trip on my last row of small holes, I will not be making a return trip in the normal way. Instead, we will begin to create the top selvedge.

Here is where it can get confusing. After finishing the forward row of small holes (you're positioned on the extreme right), you must do two stitches of a normal return row which will take you back to the left side of your right selvedge. From here you will complete two more forward rows of two stitches as shown above.

Do two stitches on your return and then turn your work 90 degrees clockwise and do two more return stitches as shown above. Are you still with me?

After this, we must hook on to the small hole to the left. Imagine that it is the same principle as when we were completing the design and on our return rows when there was to be a filled square above an empty hole, we needed two stitches instead of three in the hole. This time however we have our holes to the left and our filled part (the selvedge) to the right but the requirement is the same, that is: two stitches in the hole, which means two rows:

This is our first stitch in the hole.

This is the second stitch in the hole and we've gone ahead with two stitches to the edge. You can see that we are beginning to build our selvedge.

Again, please remember that this rule of two stitches in the hole applies to small holes and that the rules are different for medium holes and also different again for large holes.

Continue in this way until you get to the top. There is a bit more to show you which I'll continue in another post.

If you are just joining us, take a look at the first part of our Puncetto Snowflake.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Aemilia Ars Needle Lace Freebies

The Cultural Association "I Merletti di Antonilla Cantelli" has given a most wonderful selection of old Aemilia Ars needle lace patterns as a Christmas gift to their readers, students and followers!

This morning I received their newsletter in my inbox and with my heart racing I clicked on the link to read their full letter which tells the story that in the middle of the 1990s, Francesca Ortolani who was part of the religious order of the Sanctuary of Sacro Cuore in Bologna gave to Antonilla Cantelli's students some boxes full of large and small patterns for Aemilia Ars needle lace which had been used by the famous school which was headquartered at the Sacro Cuore beginning in 1912 which taught sewing, embroidery and lace to women.

Antonilla Cantelli being by then (the mid-1990s), a master of Aemilia Ars needle lace had begun her studies at the above-mentioned school which was well and widely known for the high calibre of Aemilia Ars needle lace made there. Antonilla had four students at the time of this wonderful donation from Francesca Ortolani and they were delighted to have their pick from the boxes of hundreds of patterns. 

Later, some of the students of Antonilla Cantelli formed the Cultural Association "I Merletti di Antonilla Cantelli" which continues to teach the methods of their master and to ensure that the breathtaking needle lace of Aemilia Ars is not forgotten. It is these ladies who have now decided to share a selection of their old patterns with us as a special Christmas present.

The 10 patterns are downloadable free from their website and have indications written on them (in Italian) for the execution of the lace.

If you should like to pursue Aemilia Ars needle lace but cannot get to Bologna to take classes, the ladies of the Association have published two fantastic books of instructions to help you. One is called "Bordi" [Borders] and one is called "Fiori" [Flowers]. You may still order them from Elena at Italian Needlecrafts until the 27th of December when she closes her shop. Elena also carries the lovely book of patterns and photos of Antonilla Cantelli's work written by her granddaughter Barbara: L'Aemilia Ars di Antonilla Cantelli.

For those of you interested in the history of Aemilia Ars needle lace, the ladies of the Association have begun to post original documents on their website under the "Storia" tab.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Italian Needlecrafts Closing

It is with great sadness that I tell you that the Italian embroidery supplies website Italian Needlecrafts will be closing at the end of December (last day to place an order will be December 27th.

For me this is terrible news. Elena has tirelessly provided me with exceptional service. All those lovely Italian linens and threads, the books, the patterns... well, I'm very sad. If I could figure out how to change the blog to all black, I would do it.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Puncetto Snowflake - Part One

Inspired by Renata's punt'e nù snowflakes, I decided to try my hand at a Puncetto Snowflake. Keeping in mind that I really shouldn't be trying to design patterns for Puncetto as I have nowhere near mastered the technique but you know, I was caught up in the holiday season.

I discovered that designs for Puncetto are not all that easy to make. You must keep it simple and small, otherwise you end up with a huge motif! My first design ended up having a base of 86 stitches... quite out of the question for a beginner like me to stitch, I don't even know how to do a selvedge of 86 stitches without running out of thread! Downsize and simplify. Ok. Design number two had a base of 48 stitches. Still too big for me but getting closer to a manageable size.

Since I had already done a 34 stitch base design from the Puncetto Valsesiano book, I thought I could live with design number three.

I seem to have the hang of doing small squares and small holes without much trouble now, so this design uses those. A small square is made up of two stitches doing two forward rows.

I then tried to stitch this up using DMC Cordonnet Special #20. Can you believe that I tried three times and broke the thread in various inconvenient places? Very frustrating. I thought perhaps my thread was old and somehow compromised so I switched to a different ball but the same thing happened! This time thought it was even more frustrating as I had gotten almost to the half-way point. This must mean that I'm pulling too tight! I also have the horrible habit of splitting the thread with the needle which breaks it. Argh!

I cut off my thread to get it out of the way at the top of the column but can you see where the thread broke? How do you fix that? Back to square one. This time I decided to take some photos along the way.

I couldn't find another ball of #20 so this time I'm using #40 with a #7 sharps needle. First the selvedge base of 34 stitches:

This is my selvedge or cimosa in Italian.

Those little bumps are my stitches and I've triple-checked them so that I have 34.

Now I have to do the left edge which consists of a small square, two stitches doing two forward rows (click on the images for a closer look).

First forward row of two stitches.

Return row of two stitches.

Second forward row of two stitches.
Next I have to do the small holes of the first row (in Puncetto you work bottom to top). These are small holes so I do a hooking on knot in every second stitch to get 15 holes.

First I need to hook on to my selvedge so this knot doesn't get counted as an actual stitch:

The hooking on knot which is call aggancio in Italian.
Then I need to get back up to the top making the same size hole as my square, so two return stitches on the loose thread which forms a kind of column (colonnina in Italian):

Repeat for the remaining holes until the last one:

Here we need to build our right side small square, so once again the hooking on stitch doesn't count when we make our two stitches doing two forward rows:

On our return trip (after the first forward row) we need to catch and include the loose thread, so think of it as another hooking on stitch which doesn't enter into our calculations but needs to be there. I pull a little tighter for these ones to give my hole a better shape. Click on the photo for a closer look, I've highlighted the hooking on stitch that I'm talking about in red.

Now we're ready to go back to the beginning for our next row. We need to set ourselves up though by looking ahead at the pattern to see which holes will be empty and which will be filled in the row above, as we will do one less knot for the filled squares.

I had to change threads so you can see my ends which will be cut off later when they are more secure.

Well, so far so good, no breakage. I won't push my luck, that's it for today. If you want to stitch along, I'll be happy to answer questions but please remember that I'm stumbling along myself. If you are a reader who knows how to do this, and you see something I'm doing incorrectly, please leave a comment below!

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.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Italian Hope Chests - The Cassone

With the re-birth of Tuttoricamo as a blog, they tell me that they will not be publishing some articles that I wrote for their old website, but they have no problem if I publish them here so that perhaps they can be of use to readers. The following is about Italian Hope Chests.

“The cassone—that most suggestive article of Italian furniture—was dressed with a flat cover of brocade or velvet or with a thin long cushion. In no case did the cover conceal the work which was lavished on the cassoni by their makers, for this chest was the especial pet of the decorator—the designer being sometimes the architect of the building.”
-- Renaissance Textiles, Antiques Digest, 1930.

The history of the Italian cassone (marriage casket, coffer or chest) dates back to ancient Roman times. Referred to often as forzieri before the 15th century, they often came in pairs and were a gift to the bride in which she could take her things to her new household without the personal wealth of her trousseau items being on public view. Traditionally she made a wedding procession through the streets of the city from her house to that of her groom, or in the case of foreign marriages, into the city of her betrothed as brides usually went to live in the family home of the groom. The cassoni soon became so richly ornamented that they themselves become symbols of the wealth of the bride’s trousseau and family and were considered some of the most precious pieces of household furniture.

Metal and velvet cassone in the Palazzo Davanzati, Florence.

Italian cassoni were often richly decorated with Intarsia (inlaid wood), gilded Pastiglia (reliefs of very fine gesso), painted, carved or a combination of all these types, sometimes even having ivory carvings or bronzework. The ornamentation being so precious that the cassoni were often dismantled in later centuries so that the panels could be used as wall decorations. Many painted wooden panels in today’s museums are actually the panels of cassoni (see below - painted cassoni panels). Generally ornamented on the front and the two ends, they were sometimes decorated on the back although this side was only seen in the bride’s procession to her new home. The inside of the lid too, was often decorated, both elaborately or simply and sometimes the inventory of the cassone’s contents was written on it. The cassoni were most often lined with fabric.

Early painted panels depicted notable women like Penthesilea, Hippolyta and Emilia; Dido, the warrior Camilla, the Sabine Women, Lucrezia of Rome and Verginia and other heroines from ancient history done with the idea of guiding the bride toward exemplary behaviour. Scenes and symbols representing fertility were also popular. Lorenzo de’Medici (1449 - 1492) records cassoni with ‘Petrarchan triumphs’ in his inventories signalling perhaps a move toward less morally instructive imagery. In fact, painting styles on the cassoni changed around 1440 from Gothic to Renaissance style.

Gilt cassone in the Museum Collezioni 
Comunali d’Arte, Bologna.

Sienese cassoni tended toward more romantic themes while the Florentine ones were “fiercely didactic”. In the Veneto, production was mainly in Verona and painted cassoni often had mythological stories painted on them. In the mid-15th century, Umbria and Northern Italy favoured complex scenes. Florence introduced a new style of Pastiglia at the end of the 1400s based on ancient sculpture, whereas previously Pastiglia patterns had imitated textiles or were repeating patterns. Milan favoured high-relief free-flowing foliage. By the early 16th century the overall trend was more toward lower-relief classical ornament. The mid 1500s saw change in the shape itself of the cassoni with raised lids and bulbous bases often with lion’s paws for feet. Bologna’s cassoni exhibited friezes with carved griffins, foliage and even Bucrania. While painted cassoni were popular in Florence, Venice preferred inlaid geometrical designs. In the Abruzzo, wooden cassoni were carved with sayings like: Onestà fa bella donna [Virtue makes a beautiful woman]. In Sardinia cassoni were traditionally carved wood, often varnished with opaque black with geometrical motifs – those which can also be found in their traditional rugs, tapestries and Filet lacework: florals, peacocks, doves, etc. Many Sardinian artisans still produce the cassoni today although in Sardinia they go by the name of cassapanca. Inputting “cassapanche sarde” into a Google search will amaze you!

Famous artists of the Renaissance like Paolo Uccello (c 1397 - 1475), Pinturicchio (c 1454 - 1513), Filippino Lippi (c 1457 - 1504), Masaccio (1401 - 1428) and his brother Scheggia (1406 - 1486), Benozzo Gozzoli (c 1421 - 1497), and Sandro Botticelli (c 1444 - 1510) and many others as well as countless minor artists were commissioned to paint cassoni. Several of today’s surviving cassoni panels have been attributed to the Florentine workshop of Apollonio di Giovanni (c 1416 - 1465) which specialized in work for private citizens. During this period, Florence was well-known for exceptionally magnificent cassoni.

Painted cassone in the Palazzo Davanzati, Florence.

Both Cennini (c 1370 - c 1440) and Vasari (1511 - 1574) mention cassoni in their written works. Cennini gives instruction on which methods to use when painting cassoni in his Il Libro dell’Arte (1437). Vasari notes in his The Lives of the Most Excellent Italian Painters, Sculptors, and Architects (1550) that the fronts and sides of the cassoni were depicted with fables from Ovid and other authors or stories by Greek and Latin historians and even love stories, jousts and similar fair. He also notes that the two family’s co-joined heraldry was also visible at the corners and elsewhere on the chests. Vasari recounts the famous artists of the previous centuries (one artist in particular, Dello Delli c 1404 - c 1470, painted quite a number of cassoni) who were not embarrassed to paint the cassoni as were the artists of his day signalling perhaps the period when ‘professional’ quality cassoni painting was in decline.

Italian cassoni were frequently made of various woods like pine, poplar and chestnut but largely of walnut. They tended to be larger than northern European and English marriage chests, ranging in size from 38 x 130 cm to 43 x 175.8 cm. Lower income families followed the tradition of the cassoni but while they were still large in size they were often unadorned.

The contents of the cassoni could be anything portable the bride chose to bring with her to the marriage but mainly consisted of clothing, embroidered linens – both household and personal, toiletries, sewing and embroidery implements and materials (often whole bolts of homespun fabrics), jewelry and perhaps a few books.

“Isabella d’Este arrived in Mantua as the bride of Francesco II Gonzaga in 1490. In her luggage she brought thirteen painted chests, and Ercole de’ Roberti, the Ferrarese artist who designed them, travelled with her.” (The Court of Ferrara & its Patronage, by Marianne Pade, Lene Waage Petersen, Daniela Quarta, 1990.) Today we tend to think of a single marriage chest per bride, but this was not always the case. The more wealthy the bride’s family, the higher the number of cassoni she brought with her.

In the mid-fifteenth century it became the groom’s family’s task to have the cassoni made and placed in readiness awaiting the bride and all her possessions in the newly outfitted nuptial chamber of their home. One of the motives behind this change in responsibility was Florentine sumptuary law restricting the pomp of wedding processions. Sometimes in the early 16th century a pair of cassoni might cost the wealthy as much as the sum of a skilled labourer’s entire year’s wages.

Cassone from Verona c. 1490 in the 
Poldi Pezzoli Museum, Milan.

Cassoni were important pieces of furniture and figure in some ancient texts. Leon Battista Alberti (1404 - 1472) has one of his protagonists in his Libri Della Famiglia (1433) use a cassone when making an example so that his wife will understand when he attempts to teach her how to manage his household. Cassoni feature in a few of the stories of The Decameron (composed between 1348 - 1353) by Giovanni Boccaccio (c 1313 - 1375) and one is even the key element in Filomena’s story (second day, ninth tale). The story would later inspire Florentine painter Giovanni di Francesco Toscani (c 1370 - c 1430) to depict it on two cassoni around 1425. Other stories from the Decameron were often subjects for painted cassoni some of which survive today in various museums.

With the changes in taste and views of marriage throughout the 17th and 18th centuries, the cassoni declined in importance and the quantity of decoration lessened. By the 19th century Renaissance cassoni were being dismantled and sold off in pieces to the new population of tourists on the Grand Tours of Europe – especially Britons and Americans who had money and an interest in bringing home souvenirs. The tradition of the cassone has trickled down through the centuries becoming all but lost in many parts of modern day Italy. Not since the 1950s has it been widely followed. Times have changed and for many of today’s Italian women, the cassone of their mother or grandmother has become their own in which they store trousseaux of magnificent embroideries and laces of the past and present for future generations. For some no family heirloom remains and they must hunt for a cassone to call their own in the antiques markets. A number of Renaissance cassoni survive today, scattered around the globe by the many collectors outside of Italy. Quite a few of the world’s museums proudly display these fine examples of Italian art which have guarded the most exquisite pieces of Italian embroidery and lace.

Books to check out:
At Home in Renaissance Italy by Marta Ajmar-Wollheim & Flora Dennis, 2006.
Cassone Painting, Humanism and Gender in Early Modern Italy by Cristelle Baskins, 1998.
Inside the Renaissance House by Elizabeth Currie, 2006.
The Triumph of Marriage: Painted Cassoni of the Renaissance by Cristelle Baskins, 2008.
Sumptuary Law in Italy 1200-1500 by Catherine Kovesi Killerby, 2002.

Further study:
Cassoni and the Decameron
Restoration of painted cassoni
 at the V&A
Cassoni at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London

Images of Cassoni online:
Many different types of cassoni
Painted cassone
Carved Sardinian cassone
Carved cassone
Intarsia cassone inlaid with ivory, walnut and ebony
Museum Les Arts Décoratifs, Paris - click on the image for a larger view of all three cassoni

Painted Cassoni panels:
Venus and Mars (Botticelli)
David and Goliath (Pesellino)
The Triumph of David (Pesellino)

Thank you to Stefania for the photo from the Poldi Pezzoli and to Elisabetta for the photo from the Collezioni Comunali d'Arte!

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Sicilian Drawn Thread Work book

I have never seen a book entirely dedicated to teaching Sicilian Drawn Thread Work until this past spring. The Cooperative Ma.Gi.Co Ricami from Modica, Sicily put together a fine group of patterns and step-by-step instructions for the French publishing house Les éditions de saxe. The text therefore is in French and Italian.

In 2009 I attended one of their free 1 hour classes on Sicilian Drawn Thread Work at the Italia Invita Forum. They showed me how to execute a netted area which is the base for all types of Sicilian Drawn Thread Work. I wanted to learn so much more but there just wasn't the opportunity. At that time they did not have anything prepared in the way of instructions that I could take away with me but I did purchase a finished piece and an already-cut piece of fabric from them which I told you about in this post.

When a friend and I talked to the ladies at the Cooperative Ma.Gi.Co Ricami booth at the Italia Invita Forum in 2011 they said that the French publishing house had approached them with the idea of the book. It is 80 pages of colour photos and a pull-out section with patterns. There are traditional and non-tradition patterns including some fun whimsical ideas for kid's things... would you let your baby drool all over your Drawn Thread Work? I'm not sure I would but the bibs and things are awfully cute.

The main three different types of Sicilian Drawn Thread Work are explained and the different languages are in different colours and therefore easily followed when searching for the text you're using. There is a tutorial at Tuttoricamo's new blog on how to achieve these different effects.

You can get this book from Tombolo Disegni, click on "Libri", then "Libri Ricamo", then "Sfilati ed Assia", there you can also see some more pages of this book.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Orvieto Crochet Lace - Ars Wetana

Orvieto is situated in the central part of Italy in the Umbria region. I wrote a little about it here. Umbria is rich in needlework techniques and history. The town of Orvieto is best known for it's crochet lace.

Cushion by Ars duemme exhibited at the 2007 Italia Invita Forum.
The following is a translation of the history page on the Ars duemme website:

The lace of Orvieto was born at the end of the 19th century and in June of 1907 a patronage society for the women of Orvieto was founded with the aim of offering the town's women the opportunity to earn a modest income while occupying their spare time in a decent and not overly strenuous way.
The idea was launched by Senator Count
Eugenio Faina and was realized by his son Claudio, who gave the first funds to his daughter Maria Vittoria and to the noblewomen Eugenia Petrangeli and Pauline Valentini, who occupied themselves with coming up with a simple but also remarkable technique, that women could produce at home.
The choice fell on the lace that was made with Irish thread which, as well as having artistically impressive effects, presented a technical level suitable for dividing a single artifact among workers. Right from the beginning, the lace took on the typical characteristics of Orvieto both from a decorative and execution point of view. In fact, the decorative motifs of the lace reproduce designs of leaves, ivy, acanthus and vine, flowers, animals and figures taken from the fourteenth-century bas-reliefs of the facade of the Orvieto Cathedral.
The patronage society was called Ars Wetana, which testifies to the artistic level and the local peculiarities expressed in the artifacts.

The Ars duemme workshop in Orvieto is run by a mother-daughter team who produce exquisite Orvieto Crochet Lace items and also run classes in this technique.

First the individual crochet lace motifs are made against the design traced on a piece of fabric and then they are attached together with a crocheted hexagonal netting in various stages and sizes. When the work is detatched from the fabric, it is then ironed in a particular way. The is the most curious thing I find about this lace is how the bas-relief is achieved: with heated iron pieces! Of course it's quite tricky to find the balance between how much you can distort the work without scorching or ruining it but the bas-relief is quite prominent as you can see from the following photos which were taken at the EGA National Seminar in 2010, when Umbrian needlewomen visited to show us Umbrian needlework and textiles.