• 06Feb

    If you haven’t come by to visit my text {isle} blog yet, there is quite a bit of new content and I am continuing to post weekly. Recent articles include an exploration of topics like physical vs. digital books in Liquid Text, Emily Dickinson’s correspondence in Embellishments, the digital archives and our quest for information in Searching…or the Holy Grail of Information, the reader’s journey through an Escher-esque book in Literary Labyrinth, and the ties between weaving and digital media in Fabricating Society.

    Come over and join the conversation!

     

  • 16Jan

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    I’m not sure if I have any readers left, since the frequency of my posts has dwindled, but in just in case there are more than spam bots trolling my site…

    I started graduate school last fall to pursue my MA in literature, and I have a new blog dedicated to my academic interests in textuality.

    (Full disclosure: I created it for a class about technology and literature.)

    Feel free to join in the conversation on my text {isle} blog if you’re interested in the intersection of technology and literature, from the invention of the printing press to today’s digital media!

     

  • 25Jul

    While doing some research on artistic depictions of textile production, I came across several 14th century paintings depicting knitting madonnas.  I became very intrigued.

    This first painting, Madonna dell’Umiltà by Vitale da Bologna [source] depicts Mary holding her knitting in one hand and a knitting needle being grasped by both mother and child.  Her gaze is tenderly focused on her child.

    Ambrogio Lorenzetti’s The Holy Family depicts the family at home, seated together on a rug.  Once again Mary is knitting, this time on a set of double pointed needles, and the child Jesus is at her side.

    The final image I have to share is Meister Bertran von Minden’s Buxtehude Madonna [source].  This depiction, done later than the previous paintings (early C15), shows Mary knitting a garment in the round on double pointed needles.  An older Jesus occupies himself with a book and appears to be thinking as he gazes heavenward.

    What I find fascinating about these paintings is the knitting.  Medieval art is full of depictions of Biblical scenes and saints’ lives.  The above paintings are depictions of Christ as a child and his mother caring for him, and on a historical timeline would have taken place around 0-10 A.D.  The earliest known examples of knitting, however, date back to sometime between the 11th-14th centuries (about the time of these paintings), and do not coincide with the historical timeframe of Christ’s nativity.

    The Madonna, as depicted in art, has long been a symbol of Christian virtue.  In artistic depictions she embodies an idealistic image of motherhood, modesty, and religious devotion.  The imposition of industriousness in the form of textile production on this image of feminine virtue is an interesting one.  Was this depiction designed to show that Mary was industrious and clothed her family?  Was it to show that an idealized woman produced textiles?  Does this hearken back to the classic Odyssian model of Penelope the weaver, who engaged in a weaving project to preserve her marriage and family?  Does it present her performing a commonplace task, one that other women of the era would identify with or find relatable?

    How are these images related to C20 representations of women knitting?  Find out in my next post…

  • 09Jul

    My great-grandmother, known to us as Grandma Mim, was a maker.  I remember her hands – hands that canned garden vegetables, made elderberry jelly, scrubbed clothes in a washtub before hanging them on the line.  She sewed clothes and spent tireless hours seaming quilt squares.  In earlier years she had sat across the room-sized quilt frame from her centenarian mother, both of their hands busy persuading a needle and thread to take small even steps across the top of a quilt.  Now she quilted alone.

    I remember going to visit her one spring when I was a teenager.  It was a two hour drive through small Illinois farm towns separated by a patchwork of crops: corn, soybeans, wheat, alfalfa; each mile taking us farther from the city.  We passed the town with the large yellow gingerbread Victorian house, the town with the Dairy King, the water tower bearing the name of a town that sounded like a flower but wasn’t, and finally we came to the crossroads with a single flashing red light over the four-way stop.   Her address was a single number on a rural route, a small white farmhouse built by her late husband when they were ready to downsize from the large Victorian next door.  We were almost there when we could see the old Wal-Mart and the new McDonald’s by the nursing home.

    When we arrived, she welcomed us warmly into her kitchen, hugging each in turn and offering to make us lunch.  Utilitarian and functional, the kitchen was equipped with everything necessary, but little that was purely decorative.  Crisp white curtains hung at the windows, a hand knitted dishcloth hung over the faucet, well-scrubbed wood cabinets held butterfly gold Corelle dishware and rarely used china.  In some places the black and white pebble pattern on the linoleum floor had been nearly scoured away by years of footsteps.  Always smiling, Grandma Mim offered us sandwiches, fresh vegetables, and sun tea, or she would offer to “milk her cow” – which meant reconstituting a fresh gallon of “milk” from the white powder in a box.

    She had survived the Great Depression and two world wars, raised two stepsons and a daughter, and believed in being self sufficient:  growing her own food, sewing all of her own dresses, and piecing her quilts by hand.  Her quilts outlived her and are a tribute to her industrious nature.  Carefully packed away in mothballs when not in use, the perfectly stitched geometric patterns bear witness to her artistic acuity.  She never did anything halfway.

    After lunch, she sat on the divan in the living room and her never-idle hands took up her current tatting project, a large pile of lacework filling her lap and obscuring the pattern on her green and white dress.  I sat next to her on the textured sofa that was older than my mother, but well taken care of.   The room was dominated by the large upright piano on one end near the spare bedroom doorway.  An old pedal-driven Singer sat atop a sewing table, and the spinning green damask rocking chair that had been reupholstered a decade earlier sat near the telephone table.

    I watched my grandmother’s hands, fascinated, as she worked, the lace spilling from her fingers.  She was nearly ninety and her wrinkled hands reflected a lifetime of industry.  Her gold wedding band, sized for a younger and slimmer hand, formed a deep indentation in her ring finger.  She still wore it, though her husband had passed away almost fifteen years before.  Whenever my mother would urge her to remove it, she’d reply that she wasn’t looking for another husband.  Eventually, it would be cut off her finger when she was prepped for emergency surgery.  As she worked, the shiny silver shuttle in her hands reflected light as she deftly passed it back and forth, tying half a knot with each pass of the shuttle, the bobbin loaded with cotton thread the color of oleo.

    “What are you making, grandma?”  I queried.

    A smile lighted her face and her fading blue eyes glowed, contrasting with red hair that was only lightly streaked with silver, as she answered, “A tablecloth.”

    She held it up for me to see.  The lacework was composed of tiny intricate circular floral motifs that formed an interconnected latticework of lace.  Each flower was the size of a silver dollar, formed from more than two hundred tiny lark’s head knots.  More than half finished, the tablecloth was intended to someday cover a large formal dining table.

    “Wow, grandma, that’s beautiful!”  She beamed with pride.  I watched her hands closely, trying to understand their complicated movements.  “How long have you been working on it?”

    “Oh, five years.”  She said it casually, but to me five years was an eternity, a third of my life.

    And then I saw it.

    There, not too far from the end she was working on, was a large teardrop-shaped hole large enough to accommodate a dinner plate.  Some time, recently, she had apparently joined two nonadjacent motifs together, but she couldn’t see well enough anymore to realize what she had done.  I didn’t have the heart to tell her.

    I miss my grandmother.

    She has long since passed away, but her memory and influence remain.  Inspired by her tireless work, during the intervening years I have learned to sew, quilt, tat, and knit.  Remembering the tablecloth, I had a desire to attempt to correct my grandmother’s unwitting mistake – to proudly display this intricate tribute to her skill as a craftswoman.  I vainly questioned family members who had access to the house or lived there following her death.  Nobody was aware of what had happened to the tablecloth.  No one could remember seeing it.  The house has since been stripped of its contents and sold to someone desiring to develop the land.  The house was bulldozed to the ground.  The tablecloth may no longer exist, but Grandma Mim’s legacy lives on.

  • 07Jul

    I have long been fascinated by the history of fiber arts.  Old Greek manuscripts, like The Odyssey, tell stories of women spinning and weaving.  Ancient pottery shards depict images of women manipulating spindles and weaving at large looms. These crafts were passed down through history, changing and evolving with technology.  Some artforms were abandoned when new ones were popularized. Tatting, a form of lacemaking, was popular during the Victorian period and into the early 20th century.

    My great-grandmother was a tatter, probably due to her frugality.  She survived the Great Depression and two world wars, and maintained her thriftiness for the rest of her life.  Tatting allowed her the opportunity to create beautiful lace accessories, like collars and cuffs, as well as table-topping doilies and even a tablecloth, but to do so inexpensively.  The craft requires only a sturdy non-pilling cotton thread and a metal, plastic, or wooden shuttle – a boat-shaped bobbin – and either a pattern or a little imagination.  The expense was in the labor and expertise involved in manipulating the shuttle and thread, and the diligence required when creating a large or intricate project.

    I learned to tat about a decade ago, and find it a very satisfying endeavor.  Something about the rhythm of tying hundreds, or even thousands, of tiny lark’s head knots to create an intricate interconnected network of loops and scallops intrigues me.  Maybe it is the beautiful lace that I create with my own hands and some simple materials, or maybe its the act of tying myself to all the women of the past, of incorporating myself in the historic network of women who have used their hands to create clever or practical or beautiful things.

    For the past several months I have been working on a rather large (for me, anyway) project that I plan to submit to the Illinois State Fair competition.  Composed of thousands of tiny knots, this dinner-plate sized doily is made from #80 thread – thinner than standard quilting or sewing thread.  Tatting’s challenge is much like that of an old typewriter: mistakes are at the least very difficult and in the worst case impossible to correct.  Once a knot is made, it may be undone if it was done recently.  Like crochet, all intervening stitches must be undone in order to correct an early mistake.  If this involves a recently executed stitch in one of the straight or scalloping chains of knots, then it is feasible to correct an error.  But if the error lies within one of the closed loops of knots or beyond one of the aforementioned loops, then one must be a very skilled, patient, detail oriented, and have very keen sight.  Did I mention patient?

    So, here I sit, rhythmically tying tiny cotton knots, checking and double checking my work for accuracy, and hoping that it looks as good when it’s finished as it does in my imagination.