Stitching Medieval Manuscripts.

I have a deep and abiding love of Medieval Manuscripts, there’s always more to discover and wonder over, and here’s a new and delightful discovery to me, the early repairs of manuscripts, where beautiful embroidery was utilised to repair flaws in the parchment.

A plain-colored stitch incorporated into a drawing. Gerald Raab/ Courtesy Staatsbibliothek Bamberg.

A plain-colored stitch incorporated into a drawing. Gerald Raab/ Courtesy Staatsbibliothek Bamberg.

In the Cantonal and University Library in the ancient city of Fribourg, Switzerland, is a 14th-century manuscript with some gloriously beautiful defects. Scattered throughout the text are small tears and holes. And many of them have been carefully, intricately stitched together with colorful thread.


Holes in the parchment weren’t always dealt with, but when they were, any repairs needed to be done before it could be written on. This might include both patching over holes and evening out edges, explains Sciacca. The repair method could be crude or rudimentary—“Frankenstein” repairs, as Sciacca jokingly calls them—but, as writer Paul Cooper recently highlighted, sometimes they could be quite beautiful.

In that same 14th-century text in Fribourg, a single page is elegantly adorned with two sets of thin stitches, one pink, one green. Elsewhere in the same manuscript there are rainbow-hued repairs of different shapes and sizes. In a text held at the Engelberg Abbey library in Switzerland, stitches at the edge of the page create a “rope”, as Sciacca refers to it, to fill in the edge of the parchment. And from the same library, the missing side of one page has been patched with an additional square of parchment.

A series of repairs made in James of Voragine’s 14th-century Golden Legend. Courtesy Cantonal and University Library Fribourg, Switzerland, Ms. L 34.

A series of repairs made in James of Voragine’s 14th-century Golden Legend. Courtesy Cantonal and University Library Fribourg, Switzerland, Ms. L 34.

As medieval book historian Erik Kwakkel points out, these repairs must have been common in certain monasteries. “Where I was finding a lot of these embellishments were in manuscripts that came from either nunneries, or from what they call in Germany, double cloisters,” Sciacca says. “So you have this paired male and female monastic community. They live separately, but they’re allied with each other, and they’re physically located next to each other. So it seems that this may be part of what was, in fact, women’s training, what was nuns’ training, which was to practice embroidery. And they were doing it not just on textiles, but also actually in manuscripts.”

Stitching wasn’t the only way to make the best of flawed parchment. There are instances of holes being incorporated into illustrations, or used to reveal an illustration on the following page. The stitches themselves could even be embellished. In a text in Germany’s Bamberg State Library, a curve of plain-colored stitching is surrounded with the drawing of a man so that the thread resembles his skeleton.

You can read much more, with lots of links, and see much more at Atlas Obscura. Fascinating!

The Quilts of War.

Army Uniform Quilt from the Napoleonic Era by an unidentified artist (Region unknown, possibly Prussia, late 18th/early 19th century), wool, probably from military uniforms; Silesian pieced (photo by the author for Hyperallergic).

Artist unidentified, Soldier’s Hexagon Quilt (Crimea or United Kingdom, late 19th century), wool from military uniforms, 85 x 64 in (courtesy the Annette Gero Collection, photo by Tim Connolly, Shoot Studios).

…These wartime quilts are incredibly rare, and Gero states in the release that “there are fewer than one hundred of these quilts in the world, and no two are alike.” War and Pieced highlights their diversity, whether in the distinctive beadwork on quilts made by soldiers stationed in India in the 19th century, or the motifs of African shields and spears embroidered on a late 19th-century quilt, likely made in tribute to those killed in the Anglo-Zulu War. A quilt made in India between 1860 and 1870 has its beads connected to small circles of fabric, the discs probably left over from punching buttonholes into uniforms. Although the conflict may be unnamed on the quilt, the patterns, needlework, and, above all, uniform materials, can place these fabric works in time.

They’re moving relics of the bloody battles that stretched across the globe in the mid-18th to 19th centuries, from the Prussian and Napoleonic wars, when elaborate intarsia quilts featured pictorial inlays of soldiers, to the Crimean War with its dense geometries. One from that mid-19th-century engagement has a checkerboard at its center, an example of the boards made from scraps of military uniforms to fend off boredom. The spare fabric that formed the checkerboard may have been from uniforms of the dead or wounded, thus adding a somber memorial to an otherwise vibrant wool quilt.

Although there is a vision of hope in making something beautiful out of horror, there’s an eerie echo of the suturing of wounds in each stitch of the quilt. The intense labor of some of those made in convalescence — one from 1890 involves 25,000 blocks, hexagons, and diamonds — represents the incredible amount of time these men spent recovering. Viewed together, the quilts in War and Pieced are haunting reminders of the lives given and maimed in the British Empire’s global conquest, and those that continue to be lost to war.

Following the exhibition’s run in New York, it will travel to the Nebraska museum and open May 25, 2018.  You can see and read much more at Hyperallergic.

These amazing works remind me of Ernest Thesiger’s effort, after World War I, to help disabled soldiers to make a living with embroidery.

You can read about that here. (Yes, that Ernest Thesiger, aka Dr. Pretorius.)

Textile Maps.

Image: Generation.

This is very cool, textile maps of the textile arts of various parts of Pakistan, which has a rich heritage when it comes to textile art.

Pakistani clothing company Generation has found a clever way to remind us how much textile art can demonstrate the richness of culture. Their textile map of Pakistan, which uses native embroidery techniques to mark different regions, has become a viral sensation, with more than 20,000 shares on Twitter.

From traditional Swati embroidery to the balochi taanka stitch, the map is a beautifully visual way to explore Pakistan’s cultural heritage. And this isn’t the first textile map to catch our eye. Generations may have been inspired by Craftsvilla, India’s largest online ethnic store, which put out their “fabric tour of India” several months ago. Using a similar concept, the map explores different hand-woven textiles by Indian state.

And if you really want to delve into things, Craftsvilla also breaks out each state and its respective textile, giving a little historical insight across the country. Certainly, both maps are a good reminder of how traditional textiles and textile art help shape culture across different countries.

You can read and see much more at The Met.

Precious Goods.

I am incredibly lucky, and so very privileged to know so many wonderful people. Voyager has been helping to clean out an attic, among other things, and came across a bounty of vintage embroidery thread, including a good deal of silk, which I always covet. Voyager was generous enough to offer it to me, and my jaw about hit the floor when I saw two packs of Milward Needles, the real deal, before the needle business moved out of England and went to hell in a handbasket. That was an unexpected bonus, and I can’t wait to use them! Click for full size.

© C. Ford.

Time for Goop.

No, not that goop. The real stuff. As every needlesmith and other handcrafter knows, hand care is extremely important. You can’t have rough bits of skin snagging expensive materials and so forth. So, goop. When your skin reaches a too rough to work point, spoon a bit of sugar (couple tablespoons) and the oil of your choice, whisk it up, and have a good, long hand scrub. Most artists have their own formula, some prefer specific sugars, or coarse salt, and the oil choice varies quite a bit. I usually go with olive oil. I don’t use coarse salt, because I can always be counted on to have small nicks on my hand somewhere.

Shades: Still on the Couch.

rq asked if I had made any progress, and I promised another pic. Another bad one, I’m afraid. I didn’t feel like dismantling the quilt frame top and hauling it outside. Not as much progress as I’d like, but I haven’t been able to work on it consistently. The current section is 13.5″ x 5″. Click for full size.

© C. Ford.

Cool Stuff Friday.

Photos: Niklas Adrian Vindelev.

Instead of accelerating the demise of traditional craftsmanship, what if digital tools enhanced it and expanded the possibilities of what we can make?What if an architect could use a digital tool — a CNC machine, say — to create something with a distinctly human quality? How might the machine be applied to skills such as woodwork and metalwork? Could it be used to make objects with the aesthetic appeal, including the touch and feel, of a handmade object? Could it also make objects that can be scaled — objects with applicability to architecture?

These were the timely questions that three architects recently explored as residents at SPACE10  — IKEA’S external future-living lab. With a shared interest in exploring how digital tools can be applied to traditional techniques — and the potential of a CNC milling machine in particular — Yuan Chieh Yang, Benas Burdulis, and Emil Froege together found answers in three very different but eye-opening ways.

You can read and see more at Space10.

If you’re in Ottawa, consider Indigenous Walks.

Indigenous Walks is a walk and talk through downtown Ottawa exploring landscape, architecture, art and monuments through an Indigenous perspective.

The character Danerys Targaryen finally returned to Westeros on Sunday night’s Game of Thrones Season 7 premiere, but the actress, Emilia Clarke, shot the scene on a Northern Irish beach called Downhill Strand. Much of what viewers know as Westeros, in fact, is actually Northern Ireland, including parts of Winterfell, Slaver’s Bay, and the Kingsroad—all thanks to the nation’s open tracts of land and many surviving castles. To draw attention to this fact, Ireland’s tourism board commissioned a massive tapestry that details every episode of the series.

The 66-meter-long artwork is on display at the Ulster Museum in Belfast. A group of artisans including the museum’s director, Katherine Thomson, are embroidering each meter with characters and symbols that summarize each one of the episodes preceding Sunday’s “Dragonstone.” As Season 7 progresses, they’ll add more yardage to the tapestry to reflect new developments on the HBO juggernaut. By the end of season 7 it will be 77 meters long.

You can read and see more at The Creators Project.

On The Couch.

I’ve had this abstract dwelling in my head, so time to get it out. Couching is very old, and there are many ways to couch, and there are near endless cultural variants. I’m not doing any particular one, or paying much attention to the rules. I’m just having fun, going where the thread wants to go. It doesn’t look like anything yet, and I apologize for the terrible photos, it’s late, and I’m out of patience. I’ll do better in a few days. This will be all shades of gray, and the size will be 18 x 24, and it will be mounted on canvas board when done. Hopefully, I won’t be so pain-induced cranky in the next few days so I can get it better seated in the frame, and do decent photos. All that said, I will be snoozing in, so it’s going to be a slow and dozy day here at Affinity.

© C. Ford.