I’ve been researching the narratives of Miao Embroideries. This one I sourced in China. I’m still working on the narrative so I’m going to write about some technical aspects of the embroidery.
This is a reverse appliqué with a plaited couching stitch finish. The off white is the background fabric. The pattern would have been drawn or stenciled on the darker fabric of the foreground, then cut out. The cut-out darker fabric was then sewn directly to the white with a running stitch along the edge of the pattern–a basic running stitch because later it is covered with the plaiting.
The cord or plaiting is made from an inner thread like raffia or hemp and then wound with silk to make the plait. After this is all done, it is couch stitched over the running stitch made earlier around the edge of the fabric.
As for the design, I used to think they were clouds. But now, I think the pattern is based on the butterfly–butterfly antenna and the trailing floating pattern of their flying from one place to another. More about that as soon as I do a little bit more writing. Spend some time staring at the images and let me know what you think. Perhaps someone has written about a similar pattern, let me know.
The embroidery is 25 x 27 not including surrounding frame.
A detail of the fraying edge of the darker cut fabric and the couching stitch.
This fragment jumped off the shelf at me when I looking for Fez Textiles in Paris this past June. Probably Greek late 18th to Early 19th C– a fabulous piece of inspiration- long and narrow with 3 odd but delightful patterns embroidered in silk and metallic threads on a homespun linen. Bellow are details of the embroidery.
Prudence Punderson (American, 1758–1784). The First, Second, and Last Scene of Mortality, 1776–83. Untwisted silk thread on a plain woven silk ground, frame: 15 9/16 x 19 11/16 in. (39.5 x 50 cm). Collection of the Connecticut Historical Society, Hartford, Gift of Newton C. Brainard
Prudence worked on this piece for 7 years and died a year later. She was 26. May we all produce one thing as beautiful as this in a lifetime. This piece inspired Kiki Smith’s exhibition, “Sojourn” at The Brooklyn Museum. I didn’t read much on “Sojourn”as site specific art installations tend to jerk my sense of narrative. This seems as I type a somewhat insolent thing to say, but I believe in questions and in pointing at things.
Sojourn is one of my favorite words and I think that the shortness of Prudence Punderson’s life is not lost on Kiki Smith. Nor was it lost on Prudence Punderson. The initials ‘PP’ are embroidered on the coffin. Sojourn, indeed.
Joan Didion is where I first remember reading the word, sojourn. It was in The White Album, Section IV, “Sojourns.” Didion starts her first essay “In the Islands.” She is waiting in the Royal Hawaiian Hotel in Honolulu for a tidal wave to hit. It’s 1969. She writes, “We are here on this island in the middle of the Pacific in lieu of filing for divorce.” She goes on, “I tell you this not as aimless revelation but because I want you to know, as you read me, precisely who I am and where I am and what is on my mind… you are getting a woman who for some time now has felt radically separated from most of the ideas that seem to interest other people.”
If you get caught up in details it is difficult to take the long view. Who hasn’t responded to a friend with the happenings of the day with a pause. When you notice their glossed over stare; in the middle of describing the virtues of a needlepoint or such, of indifference. It makes you want to pack off to Rome or Shanghai or if it were a Didion novel, Kuala Lumpur where you could at least imagine a language difference.
From the Brooklyn Museum’s website:
Prudence Punderson’s remarkable silk embroidery offers a unique perspective on women’s lives during the Federal period. It depicts a well-appointed parlor in which three stages of a woman’s life—birth, adulthood, and death—take place, from right to left. The image is rare in that its central vignette shows a woman engaged in an artistic pursuit rather than a scene of marriage or motherhood. Also rare for the period is the portrayal of an enslaved female of African descent as an integral part of the scene. With its pronounced element of autobiography and sophisticated use of symbolic imagery, Punderson’s iconic embroidery is an inspirational narrative, which provided the model for Kiki Smith’s installation project Sojourn.
If you haven’t read Nancy Mitford, you must. Her historical biographies are amusing, insightful and a bit catty. She had been criticized in her time for having just written another one of her biographical novels when The Sun King was first published. The only difference, it was said, was that it was set at the court of Louis XIV instead of the 20th century English Countryside of her childhood.
The quote, that I embroidered with vintage cotton threads on a linen ground over a 6 month period in 2006, is from the book, The Sun King. It illuminates the life of not only Louis XIV’s brother Monsieur, Philippe of France, Duke of Orleans, but what is possible for all homosexuals. Indeed, we set our sites too low, constrained by convention.
This is all ready for the framers, and then will be for sale.
My friend Barbara, a Landscape Architect, up in Eastern Washington sent me a photo of her newest obsession. She found this hook rug at a garage sale last fall. She said she wanted to give the woman a lot more for the rug because it was so beautiful, but she paid the asking $3. Yeah, for $3.
As a kid I did hook rugs and for several years when I lived in Seattle I used to collect them as I had a vision of attaching them all together and making a large patchwork rug, but along the way of moving from one place to the other, and several failed attempts at binding them together I let them all go. I never found one as nice as this one that Barbara found. It is lovely with the bright but muted colors with the sweet folksy scene of a jaunty figure in a landscape. The scale of nature vs. human walking on a winding path through the woods next to a bend in a river-many delightful narratives could be developed from the reading of this piece.