Remember the two small black clutches with goldwork embroidery? One of my readers, Monica, suggested contacting the V&A in London to see if they knew some answers to my questions. I immediately wrote them an email. However, the autoreply I got stated that they generally don't do email consultations, but that I would be most welcome to bring my bags to a consultation day in London. Great was my surprise when I did receive an email back a couple of days ago! And this is what their Assistant Curator Jess had to say about my bags:
"Many thanks for getting in touch and sharing the images of your bags. These appear to be what have become known as Zardozi bags, based on the Indian Zardozi embroidery technique, and were very popular in the mid-century. They also underwent a bit of a revival in 1980s, with many black velvet bags with vivid gold embroidery upon them in various designs, but usually in a standard size and rectangular shape. The quality and design of your bags suggest these are earlier examples, perhaps even the 1920-30's when exoticism in fashion was rife. I'd suggest these have been made for the tourist/export market, probably hand-worked but by a professional working on quite a mass scale."
How cool is that? And Jess's answers explain a few things about the previous answers I got too. For starters, there is the confusion about the dating: 1920-30s, 1950s or 1980s. And as they were mass-produced in India it is small wonder that they are relatively unknown in the Netherlands. But since they were mass-produced, it is quite clear that your average flea market dealer is not going to tell you so even if they know :).
Now that I had a name for this type of embroidery, I could search my books and the internet for more. By just typing 'Zardozi bags' into Google, I came across an image of something else my mum had acquired at a flea market:
Yup, a glasses case made with Zardozi embroidery. So what is Zardozi? Looks like ordinary goldwork to me, you might think. Right! Zar means gold and dozi means work in the Persian language. The term Zardozi is used for traditional goldwork embroidery from Turkey, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Central Asia and Azerbaijan. A browse through my needlework books resulted in a beautiful picture of Turkish goldwork in Mary Gostelow's "Embroidery: traditional designs, techniques and patterns from all over the world" published in 1977. As is usually the case with these overview books, there is not much additional information in the text. But lo and behold, my library contained two books with large sections on goldwork embroidery from the Ottoman Empire and the Arab World.
The book 'Flowers of Silk & Gold: four centuries of Ottoman Embroidery' by Sumru Belger Krody describes the collection of the Textile Museum in Washington D.C. It is a beautiful book with in-depth chapters about the history of the Ottoman Empire, embroidery techniques and embroiderers and the designs and types of embroidered goods as well as a great catalogue of the collection. The book was published in 2000 and the pictures are really good; I highly recommend it if you are interested in Ottoman textiles!
What does the book say on zardozi? It describes zerdüz (Turkish form of the Persian word) as an Ottoman embroidery using gold or silver wire or a braid and couching it down with a similar coloured thread. It is apparently similar to Ottoman dival embroidery. So what is dival embroidery? From the description, in the book, it becomes clear that this is gimped couching over cardboard padding. The design could be further enhanced with purls, sequins and pearls. I get the feeling that dival is seen as native to Turkey and zerdüz as foreign. The Ottoman Empire encompassed large stretches of Europe and Asia, so that is understandable.
The last book with zardozi embroidery has been written by Gillian Vogelsang-Eastwood of the Textile Research Centre in Leiden. It is called 'Embroidery from the Arab World' and was published in 2010. This is an excellent book detailing the history of embroidery in this part of the world from the earliest examples in Egyptian Pharaonic tombs (early 14th century BC) to the modern era. With lots of background information on the history of the regions and social contexts of the embroidery and embroidered items. And the pictures are spectacular and come in great numbers. Another must-have for those of you interested in embroidery from this part of the world!
In this book, zardozi embroidery is called zari (metal thread embroidery). Badla is another form of metal thread embroidery associated with India, the Gulf region, Syria and Egypt. The later includes plate being used as a 'sewing thread' rather than being couched onto the fabric as is done in Western goldwork embroidery.
As can be seen from the terminology above, there are many terms which refer to particular types of goldwork embroidery. This is due to the fact that 'the Arab World' stretches from Mauritania to Syria to Oman and Somalia. Regional differences are likely reflected in these terms. At the same time, as these distinct regions function within the cultural meta-system of the 'Arab World', techniques, materials and designs blend and influence each other.
When I was researching medieval cope shields for my latest goldwork project 'On the shores of St. Nick', I saw that many had some kind of architectural frame going around the scene. I wanted one too! So I picked the one from a cope shield showing Abigail and David made around 1520-1530 in the Northern Netherlands. The piece is kept at the Catherijne Convent in the Netherlands and can be viewed in great detail online (click the image and watch 16 additional pictures which you can enlarge as well!). The pictures below come from this fantastic online catalogue.
It is a beautiful and ornate piece. But when you really start to look at it, you will find some curiosities. Look for instance at the innermost columns (those with the spiral going around). Notice anything amiss? The base of the column is behind the outermost column, but the capital is in front of it!!! Turns out M.C. Escher wasn't that original :). A similar thing can be seen in the piece of St. Lawrence: the floor tiles in the original are completely wrong perspective-wise. Why did the late-medieval embroidery designers make these mistakes? Well, the Renaissance had only started in Italy roughly a century before this piece was made. Interestingly, early Netherlandish art (1425-1525) developed independently from the movement in Italy. Wikipedia says: "The Netherlandish painters did not approach the creation of a picture through a framework of linear perspective and correct proportion. They maintained a medieval view of hierarchical proportion and religious symbolism, while delighting in a realistic treatment of material elements, both natural and man-made." And that's exactly what we see here.
But that`s not all! The average medieval embroiderer was clearly not aiming for 'distinction' at the Regiis schola opere plumarii. Yup, that's Royal School of Needlework in Latin according to Google translate :). In this case, there are some issues with the padding. I've marked them with white in the picture on the right. Can you see the problem? The string padding runs in the same direction as the couched gold threads should run. That doesn't work at all. Imagine trying to couch down a round goldwork thread on top of a round piece of string? They will always try to get away from each other and roll. The solution? Fudge as you go. But it doesn't really work. Quite a lot of the definition is lost and it looks messy. But in a world with dark churches and only candlelight, it didn't matter. As long as it sparkled to the greater glory of God and the wearer, it was okay. P.S. Note that the original background drawing was different and more ornate? I love the fact that the embroiderer had a degree of freedom in stitching the design!
Unfortunately for me, I did attend the Regiis schola opere plumarii (sorry, but I now like it better than the English name). I already sorted out the mess underneath St. Lawrence's arm and I intend on sorting out this mess too. But it is a slow process. Especially as things are perspectively wrong, I really need to think a lot first, before I couch down any gold. The plan is to lay the gold in the direction of the architecture, instead of working strictly vertical. The above is the result so far. I am using House of Embroidery fine silk colour Forget me Not in a condensed Scotch stitch for the sky. The Japanese thread #8 is couched down with DeVere Yarns 6-fold silk colour Allspice. I really like how well this warm brown colour combines with the gold!
About four years ago, my mum discovered a little black velvet clutch with goldwork embroidery and white beads at a flea market. Now she has found another one! It is clearly of the same general type, but with another goldwork design. Let's have a closer look! The first clutch was covered in detail in this blog post.
Contrary to the first clutch my mum discovered, I really like the embroidery on this one! The trellis is made with pearl purl #1. The junctions are covered with a cross-stitch using two pieces of rough purl #6. The trellis is completely filled with pretty little flowers. Each little flower is made up of four petals: a larger cross-stitch with two pieces of rough purl #6 with each 'leg' of the cross encased with a piece of bright check bullion #4. The border surrounding the trellis consists of rectangular shapes made of 9-10 parallel pieces of rough purl #6 encased by four pieces of bright check bullion #4. The rectangles are surrounded by more pearl purl #1 and pairs of large chips made of bright check bullion #4.
The bag has clearly seen much love :). Especially the bright check bullion has come unwrapped in many places. This is such a rough thread that you can easily imagine how it got caught on clothing. There is also a spot in the middle, a little off centre, where the threads are heavily tarnished. This is precisely where the thumb of a right-handed women would rest when she holds her clutch.
As I never received any comments on the first blog post regarding these fascinating little bags, I asked some experts for help. First up was the curator of the Museum of Bags and Purses in Amsterdam. I was hoping that these bags are so common that she would be able to assess its provenance and age. Unfortunately, she couldn't as the bags have no label. However, she recommended asking Dr. Gilian Vogelsang-Eastwood of the Textile Research Centre in Leiden. As I've met Gilian years ago, it was really nice emailing my questions to her. Her suggestion was that these bags are not very old: second half of the 20th century and made by fashion houses for the tourist industry. It is clear to goldwork embroiderers that the embroidery on the bags is rather cheap and cheerful than exquisite. The construction of the bags is also rather simple and done with cheaper materials (see first blog post for details).
Personally, I still think that these bags were made by needlework enthusiasts rather than fashion houses or workshops. And I think they are a bit older: first half of the 20th century. And I think they were made, broadly speaking, in the Low Countries. If they were a cheap mass product from India, the curator of the Museum of Bags would have come across them before, I think. But what about you? What do you think regarding the age and provenance of these adorable little bags? Do leave your comment below!
When I was still working on Pope Francis, I already had the idea for my next piece in my head. After a bit of research, I have made the drawings and transferred the pattern onto 40ct Zweigart natural linen. As the piece is quite big, I had to use a window to do the pattern transfer. And even then it only just fit. So what is it going to be?
I am sort of working on a series using the religious goldwork produced in the first half of the 16th century as my inspiration. After two orphreys (St. Laurence and Pope Francis) I needed a bigger canvas for the next story I wanted to tell. So I am going for the shield of a cope or pluviale in Latin. This type of garment may be worn by all ranks of clergy during processions. It is modelled on the late Roman raincoat. The now decorative shield was originally a hood.
For me, the migration crisis of 2015 has left some powerful images in my head. There were these family fathers on Munich main station looking so stressed when trying to keep their wife and children safe. I immediately wondered how well my own father would cope with us at the central train station in Damascus. He is good with keeping an eye on us, but his Arabic is rather poor... Furthermore, I and my husband travelled amongst refugee families when coming from Vienna. When I confirmed that we had crossed the German border some refugees started to praise God. But the most powerful picture of them all has been that of the little Syrian boy Alan Kurdi washed up on a beach in Turkey. Whatever your views on immigration, a drowned two-year-old war victim is a shame on us all. That's why the Latin word for 'sin' is written in the sand.
My cope shield shows how Saint Nicholas finds the body of Alan on the beach. Saint Nicholas was bishop of Myra, in Turkey, in the early fourth century. He happens to be the patron saint of sailors. Also on my cope shield is the silhouette of the Greek island of Kos. Alan and his family were trying to reach Kos when their inflatable boat capsized and many drowned. The body of Alan's mother and brother also washed ashore. When researching for the piece, I found out that the family had tried to officially immigrate to Canada as they already had family there. Fulfilling all the bureaucratic requirements proved impossible and so the application was denied. This sad story has a lot of similarities to the heart-breaking stories of Jews who tried to migrate out of Nazi Germany in the 1930s.
So what am I planning to do embroidery-wise? The dome and columns framing the piece are going to be couched goldwork. The figures of St Nick and Alan Kurdi will be done in or nue. For the fast background of sand, sea and sky I will be using classical canvas filling stitches. Especially for the later, I am hoping to use fairtrade hand-dyed silks by House of Embroidery. Poverty and hopelessness, now increasingly the result of climate change, are the underlying factors of conflict and migration. Let's combat this one stitch at a time!
Before we finish the pope (hmm, for some reason this sounds very wrong), I'd like to tell you about a special place I visited this weekend: the Abbey of Niederaltaich. Here, Benedictine monks live according to the Roman Catholic rite (West) and the Byzantine rite (East). They celebrate divine office parallel in two churches: a Catholic church and a Russian Orthodox church. As, during the Russian revolution, the Russian Orthodox church was suppressed, the pope asked several Benedictine monasteries to study and celebrate the Byzantine rite (and possibly take in refugee monks from Russia) in order to preserve this branch of Christianity. Niederaltaich is such an 'Ark' and continues to function in this unique way. And as a visitor, you are more than welcome to join them and ask lots of questions. I and my husband were fortunate enough to be invited to the Easter service at a small monastery on Crete last year, but couldn't understand much due to the language barrier. At Niederaltaich however, the Russian and Greek have been completely translated into German. And the signing of the monks is just divine. And so are the beautiful icons. If you are interested in such things, this is definitely a place you should visit!
In last week's blog post you could read how I finished the background. This week you'll see how I finished the figure of the pope and how I put the whole picture together. Firstly, I had to build up the rest of the figure with or nue. As the pope is always mainly dressed in white, this isn't an easy task. I've used two shades of white and two shades of grey silk to work the or nue over silver-coloured Japanese thread. Contrasts are rather subtle and the next time, I will probably opt for stronger contrast. You can see in the picture how I use my pencil to add remarks on shading and colour placement.
The hands and faces are always very finely silk shaded. When I worked St. Laurence, I learned that simply silk shading over the Japanese thread doesn't work. Instead, I use Bondaweb and a small piece of very fine linen. The Bondaweb prevents the linen from frying. I've cut out the hands and glued them in place. I then carefully silk shaded the hands and outlined them.
Silk shading the face posed a problem when stitching St. Laurence. The 40ct Zweigart linen was just too coarse to get a fine enough result. I remedied that this time by glueing a small piece of the very fine linen in place using Bondaweb again. It worked really well! I did not attempt to get a life-like image of the face of the pope from the photo I had. In that picture, he has very dark bags under his eyes and quite red ears... Instead, I opted for a more cartoon-style face. Just so people recognise him as Pope Francis.
Last but not least, I defined the figure further by couching down fine silver plated Twist on the pope's clothing. I also added small beads for the buttons. Years ago, I found a small silver-coloured cross and it happened to be perfect for this piece!
With the background and the figure finished, it is time for the scary bit: putting the two together. First comes the cutting-out of the figure. The small seam is turned under and secured with a little dab of glue. The background gets re-framed onto my slate frame. I keep the tension just below drum-taut, this time. I then pin the figure into place and applique him to the background with a matching thread. In this case, I also needed to insert the stumpwork hands I had made from wrapping paper covered wire with a single strand of stranded silk.
One of the hands holds a wooden parrot that came off a pair of earrings I had saved from the bin at a charity shop. The same holds true for the peace-symbol. The venus or female symbol is made of a metal washer. The "plus" part is stitched with metallic thread by Kreinik. By placing a black outline around it, the different parts form a single symbol. The rainbow flag was made by stitching single rows of chain stitch in the appropriate colours using DeVere yarns silks. The stick is a piece of gold-coloured paper covered wire.
For maximum contrast and in keeping with late-medieval traditions, I outlined the pope with black silk. I then cut out the whole orphrey and turned under the seam. I framed a piece of red patterned cotton damask onto my slate frame and appliqued the orphrey onto the new backing. Currently, the piece is at the framers to get the same hand-gilded frame as St. Laurence has. Can't wait for the piece to return to me!
In the mean-time, I have started the drawing for the next piece. Not an orphrey, but the hood of a cope this time. I need a bit more space to tell the story of illegal immigration across the Mediterranian Sea. More on that in a future blog post. You can find the other blog posts on Pope Francis by clicking the category on the right side.
A few days after I had submitted my goldwork piece for the 'Emerging Fiber Artist' print exhibition by the Fiber Art Network, I received an email. Pope Francis had not made it into the exhibition due to the high volume of extraordinary work submitted this year. I did ask if they could be a little more specific, but I did not receive an answer. My guess is that, due to its religious content, my piece might be uncomfortable. Or maybe it is because I am not an emerging, but an established textile artist? Or were they looking for more abstract pieces? Or more mixed-media? We will only know when the print exhibition comes out. In the meantime, let's continue exploring how I made Francis shine!
One of the main differences between modern goldwork techniques and the way Late-Medieval embroiderers used their gold threads, is that they don't plunge. You can see that clearly in the picture above. The ends of the threads forming the lentil around the window are just cut to size and then secured with a few extra stitches. Another difference: gold threads are happily layered. This is often done to accentuate parts of the design. Or to hide an ugly edge as in the picture above. The gilt Twist covers the ends and turns at the top of the gold screen behind the figure. At first, it is really weird to lay a goldthread over other goldthreads and stitching it in place. Yes, you might stitch through the threads, but that's okay! And this layering of threads opens up so many nice possibilities.
As I am not doing a historical reconstruction, I was able to use 'modern' threads. Originally, the separations between the roofing tiles were stitched with passing thread. Due to the pattern, they had to start and stop the thread many times. Far too time-consuming! I decided to use the Coronet Braid #8 by Rainbow Gallery. I couched my long stitches down with a fine metallic threads by YLI.
I struggled a bit with the keystone. The padding was a straightforward yellow cotton string. But then I used the same thread as I had used for the gold screen: gilt passing thread #6. However, I wasn't pleased with the result. The thread was just too stiff to sit smoothly atop the padding. So, out it came... That's not a nice job and it probably took twice as long as putting it in. Due to the fact that some of it went on top of previous stitching, that had to be repaired too. Luckily, my second attempt with a finer passing thread looks very pleasing.
Next up were the city or castle walls. Firstly, I put in all the string padding. When the padding was wider, I simply couched down an additional piece of waxed yellow string. The construction of the city walls is very straight forward: couching down gilt passing thread #6 with red Chinese flat silk.
Again, the edges are covered with two thicknesses of gilt Twist. This defines the shapes and hides the rough edges underneath.
Next up is the construction of the middle section of the city walls. Due to the nature of goldwork, you are often left with gaps between previous stitching and the next. In this case, there is a gap between the passing thread and the red silken lentil of the window. However, this gap nearly disappears when the Twist is couched over the top.
This is what the finished city walls look like. Next up was the 'keystone' on the roof. I padded it with stranded cotton using chain stitches. This is an ideal way to pad irregular shapes as it is very flexible. I then used gimped couching with the thinner passing thread to fill the shape. To let it stand out some more, I added an edge of couched black stranded silk.
I drew the two towers on a separate piece of linen. Making separate pieces and then applique-ing them onto the piece gives the whole embroidery a better sense of depth. This stumpwork is a key characteristic of these Late-Medieval embroideries. After the string padding and the or nue couching, I cut out the pieces. I turned the small seam under and secured it with a dap of white glue. I pinned the towers in place and couched them down. I added a spangle with a 3mm amethyst bead (bought when I visited Crete) to the diamond shapes. And last, but not least, I couched down a black stranded silk edge around the tower shapes for maximum contrast. To finish the background, I couched down two double rows of Rococo thread with red Chinese flat silk.
As this blog post is already rather lengthy, I'll save the finishing of the figure and the putting together of figure and background for a future blog post. You can find all blog posts related to this project by clicking Pope Francis in the categories menu on the right.
My parents love to go to flea markets! My dad searches for postcards and letters written by World War I soldiers and my mum finds all sorts of lovely vintage stuff and the occasional ceramics. But more importantly, they come across needlework! And their latest find is this:
It is a "B" monogram made with very fine shiny cotton thread. The monogram is glued onto an ordinary light weight backing paper (the thicker blue card glued to the original paper has nothing to do with it). It is stated on the paper that the monogram was made in France and patented in France, England, the US and Germany. The date for the US patent is July 18th 1906. I had never encountered them before, but a quick search for 'Plumetis Express" on Google will show you that these vintage monograms can be had a plenty. I and my mum were immediately intrigued, but quite unsure how these monograms worked. Plumetis Express could be translated as "Quick Satin Stitch".
Now that I knew that these monograms are not at all rare, I really wanted to try to use my B! I started by removing the blue backing paper. This is what the thing now looks from the back. The monogram measures 7,8x5,4cm and rises to about 3mm in height at the plumpest parts.
Now, what is one supposed to do with these monograms? Luckily, some of these monograms have the instructions printed on them. One version goes like this:
Ne pas decoller de la feuille support. Faufilez exactement dans le sens de la broderie en prenant initiale papier et linge. Cousez ensuite à l'envers du tissu à points de surjet avec une aguille fine. Ne pas enlever la faufilure. L'initiale étant cousue enlever le papier.
and the other like this:
Faufiler le tulle supportant la letter sur le tissue à la place exacte que devra occupier la letter.
Par intervalles rapprochés, faufiler la letter.
Déchirer et enlever le tulle, arrêter solidement les extrémités de la lettre et finir de la fixer en cousant à l’envers de l’étoffe à points de surget, en ayant soin de bien pendre toule la lar geur de la letter.
Nota – Si le linge est neuf, le mouiller afin d’éviter tout gondolement qui pourrait resulted du retrait de la toile.
Pour la couture de ces lettres, employer des aiguilles courtes et fines.
Although I had french in school and in later life even took classes at the Open University, I couldn't quite understand what they were going on about. Feeding the text to Google Translate doesn't help either, but will probably make you roar with laughter (it works equally 'well' for translations into EN, DE or NL!). Luckily, the original boxes these monograms came in, had instructional pictures with the text. The above picture comes from a Japanese website who sold these monograms at some point. A quick chat with Friar Markus, who grew up in Saarland near the French border, confirmed that by now I probably knew how to do this...
One starts by washing the linen fabric (I am using my favourite: Zweigart 40ct Newcastle) the monogram will be attached to. Omitting this pre-shrinking will result in wrinkles as soon as the finished piece is laundered. Then one arranges the paper onto the linen and presumably pins in place. So far so good!
Now I ran into a problem. According to the instructions I should use the yarn from the box the monogram came in... Bummer. Reading the rest of the instructions, I came to understand that the yarn in the box probably was the same as used for the monogram in the first place. The instructions say that one should place one's stitches in such a way that they fall in line with the thread direction of the monogram. Aha! Let's see if my stash harbours a yarn similar to the stuff used for the monogram. I ended up picking Gütermann Polyester sewing thread Col. 1. Although it seems that the original yarn used is even a bit finer, the Gütermann isn't a bad match. The monogram has aged and stained, so in some places, the Gütermann will be too white. Alas, it is a strong polyester thread and I have a feeling I will need its relative strength compared to cotton or silk. Because the instructions say that I should stitch through the edges of the monogram, the paper and the linen background fabric! I should use a short and sharp needle for the task. I'll better also wear a thimble :).
Now let's do as the picture says. It is actually quite easy to pierce through the paper and the monogram. Only the ends unravel a bit. But this might be due to ageing.
In the next step, we'll turn the work and work from the back. With small stitches, we secure the initial even further. This step was rather difficult and really hard on the fingers. Changing to a curved needle did help a little. But especially the thinner parts of the monogram were quite difficult to 'catch' from the back.
Now it was time to remove the paper. That didn't go well. Short pieces soaked in glue close to the initial were almost impossible to remove. Tweezers and a magnifier didn't help much either. I ended up hand-washing the piece with a little clear dishwashing liquid and scratching the paper away with my nails as best as I could. I assume that either the paper came off much better when the initial was first produced or the little bits of paper didn't bother too much as they would probably come off after a few laundry cycles.
The difficulties to remove the paper resulted in some of my stitches having snapped. I ended up carefully removing them and securing the loose parts of the monogram again. By now I am not sure if the additive Express is very appropriate for this Plumetis Monogram...
Once the monogram was secure again, I decided to embellish it further with some simple flower embroidery. After all, there is not a whole lot of embroidery going on in a Plumetis Express. I used a lovely variegated silk thread by Caron called Black Iris. My flowers were stitched with two strands using detached chain stitch and French knots. As the variegation is distinctively either greens or purples, it worked very well for the petals and the leaves.
I hope my blog post has inspired you to pick up one of these vintage monograms yourself! Mounted and framed they make for stylish French-style embroideries on your wall. Too much trouble? No worries: My "B" is now available for sale from my webshop; mounted and framed, good to go :).
P.S. One thing remains: how were these monograms made? Surely they are machine made. But how did that work? If you have the answers, please comment below!
Only about eight months ago, I would have staged my finished goldwork piece the minute I had put the last stitch in. I would have opened Instagram and take the perfect picture. I would have spent some thought on the right description to go with the picture. Which hashtags would generate the most traffic? And then I would have stayed awake for at least another 30 minutes to be able to answer to the first reactions coming in. All in the name of generating more traffic to my Instagram account and ultimately to my website and my webshop. BUT, it was already far past midnight when I finished Francis. AND I had worked my body to the brink of collapse over the past few weeks in order to make the deadline. So instead, I wished Francis goodnight, turned off the lights in my studio, brushed my teeth in the dark so as not to wake my dear husband and then slipped carefully between the covers for a well-deserved rest. And after a good night's sleep, I didn't immediately write a blog post about the piece either. Francis has been mine alone for a whole other week! That's bliss in a society where we increasingly share our whole life the minute it happens. Hoping to generate as many likes as possible. One must be mad to step away from all the instant digital love :). Enough musings: here he is!
Isn't he gorgeous? I love the over-the-top bling. It satisfies my inner magpie. For those of you who are interested in the technical aspects of the piece: no worries. I will write at least another blog post detailing how I came to this rather stunning end-result. But for now: enjoy the bling!
P.S. You can find the first three blog posts on this project by clicking the "Pope Francis" category on the right.
We finally have warmer temperatures and no more fresh snow here in the south of Bavaria! It is even warm enough to sit outside on the balcony :). Can't wait for all the snow to melt away. I love to go for long hikes and really feel blue when I can't in the winter due to slippery conditions. It will be so good to hike up the mountains again in a few weeks time!
Unfortunately, last week I got some bad news from the Künstler Sozialkasse: my appeal has been dismissed. I tried to gain official artist status with this organisation as it would mean that I get cheaper health insurance and a modest pension plan. The state now sees me as an entrepreneur who makes tons of money each year. The high rates for health insurance and my private pension plan reflect this. You can read my first blog post on this here.
The long letter explaining to me why I am not an artist is written in beautiful lawyer's German. I am so glad that I have a doctorate; it really helps to understand what they are saying. It mainly boils down to: embroidery has never been an artform historically speaking and can thus now not be an art form either. It is simply a craft. That's HUGE!!! This means that unless I am changing my medium, I am never going to be recognised as an artist. Over the past months, several artistic friends have indeed suggested that I should incorporate at least a little paint as that would mean that I can brand my pieces as mixed media. For laypeople: that's one step up from 'textile art' :).
The other point they are making is that my pieces don't have a deeper layer of meaning. And therefore they are no art. Plainly not true. I made the above piece in 2011 for my RSN Diploma. It translates the key-Buddhist principle of 'doing the right thing at the right time' into textile. This was one of the pieces which I submitted to the Künstler Sozialkasse to proof that I am making at least some pieces with this 'deeper layer of meaning'. My RSN advanced goldwork piece, also from 2011, is full of Christian symbolism explaining who St. Alanus was. And my most recent piece of Pope Francis certainly has a whole bunch of layers. I submitted the plans for this piece too. I don't know why they don't acknowledge these points.
But, the whole thing about a deeper layer of meaning = automatically art has a disturbing consequence. What about the hyper-realistic portraits of painters like Holbein? The naturalistic still lives of many famous painters since the Renaissance? Is that not art? Just craftmanship? I also submitted various needle paintings made from photographs of flowers I had taken myself. They were dismissed as not being art.
And what about the wood carvers here in the Ammertal that mainly copy historical wood carvings which sell well to tourists? Most of them are in the Künstler Sozialkasse. My interpretation of a historical orphrey (St. Laurence) was not seen as art either.
My conclusion thus is that my embroidered pieces will never officially been seen as art: I simply use the wrong medium. I now have three options left: 1) take the Künstler Sozialkasse to court and fight the dismissal, 2) change my medium & start a fresh application or 3) become a famous textile artist accepted by peers & start a fresh application. The first option is something I cannot afford and I doubt that I will be able to plead my case successfully. After all, I can't change the history of embroidery. The second option is something I am simply not willing to do. My medium is embroidery, I don't feel comfortable working in paint. The third option is the way I will be going. However, I will probably not submit a new application. As a successful textile artist, I hopefully will be able to pay the full fees for my health insurance and decent pension plan myself. I was raised to be a responsible citizen: you don't ask for benefits unless you really need them.
As suggested by some after my first blog post on this whole matter, I did contact the German embroidery guild to see if they could help. They never replied to my emails.
On the upside: I am now getting health insurance through my husband's employer and don't pay a penny for it. Our family income has fallen below a certain point and that made me eligible. I also met the deadline for finishing my Pope Francis piece (you'll meet him next week!) and submitting it for the Fiber Artist Network emerging fiber artists grant. I just hope that they see me as just starting out and not as somebody who has been a full-blown textile artist all these years without knowing it herself. That would just be too bittersweet....
As I am really pushing to meet a deadline, here are some quick shoutouts you might be interested in. Firstly, the Society for Embroidered Works has an Open Call for membership from the 24th of February till the 2nd of March. Although membership is free, entries are peer-reviewed. The Society tries hard to put embroidered art firmly onto the map. The more we are, the stronger our voice!
Secondly, a fresh batch of Klass & Gessmann embroidery hoops with seat frame or table clamp have found their way into my webshop. Secure yours quickly as they have been selling fast; one flew out before I could give you all the heads up that they are available again :). Not sure why you should probably invest in these hoops? Read my review here.
And last, but not least: I have found a new supplier for the silver coloured Japanese thread! Both sizes, #8 & #12, are available again from my webshop.
This is all for now. I am back to my slate frame, needles, fine silks and metal threads :).
Jessica M. Grimm
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