My Dishtowel Jones: The Danish Modern Beauty

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It’s no secret I’m addicted to dishtowels. I love ‘em, old and new.

I like to use them.

I like to weave them.

I like to sell them.

I even run contests to honor and glorify them.

I have a new favorite dishtowel—quite possibly the best ever!

It’s damask linen, very high quality. It’s crisp and almost crunchy, the way good linen is when new. And it has that sheen, that shine, that polish that only linen gives us. It’s unused fabric—never washed or put to use, with the original sizing. The woven design looks different on the two sides. One side shows the pattern as light against a darker background and the other side reverses the shades.

The style of the towel is Danish modern and that makes it unusual in itself. While I could show you lots of table linens and towels that evoke styles such as Art Nouveau or Deco, and even more that are mid-century modern and cottage, it’s unusual to find linens that really complement the cool, clear lines and pale colors I associate with the Danish Modern aesthetic.

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This towel also makes one thing clear—it’s a bar towel! The woven design is of wine glasses and champagne coupes and brandy snifters and decanters of adult beverages. There they are, all lined up on the “shelves,” waiting for the party to begin.

I have four of these towels. The fabric was sold as yard goods and the original tag was still affixed to the linen—“Dalsjofors hellinne” from Sweden.

gothic petuniaI bought a piece that could be cut up into four towels—the design is laid out in a way that made it easy to see where to cut. I double turned the hems and stitched them on my beloved Singer Featherweight.

And now I admire these towels. I gaze at them in wonder and touch them with affection.

I know I don’t need four of them and I should sell some of them on Etsy, to spread the beauty around a little. The closest I’ve gotten is listing one of them at a pretty high price.

It irritates me a little that the listing has gotten almost no attention! Towels that are FAR inferior (in my opinion!) are getting love but my Danish Modern beauty is so understated and elegant, it goes unnoticed. Do you think that’s why so few of us opt for understated elegance as a look?

But beneath my irritation, I have to admit I feel a little relieved. Like all addicts, I covet all of what I need. I want to keep it close, to revel in it, and I certainly do not want to share it!

They say addiction is wrong but if this feeling is wrong, I don’t want to be right!

Summer Abecedary: Ps and Quiet

This summer has been brought to me by the letter P.

Piquant: As always, summer is the season of grilling and barbecue. My husband has taken to making his own barbecue sauces—my favorite has 25 ingredients. And there’s the piquancy of knowing that so many summer flavors, and experiences, are available only briefly, and more beloved because we wait all year for them.

Pesky: For all the perks of summer, we still have Japanese beetles, red lily beetles, crabgrass, chickweed and . . .

Poison ivy: The peskiest of pests, brought home as oil on the fur of cats I love to cuddle.

Predictable: Summer in our neck of the woods and lake means certain obligatory outdoor décor—Adirondack chairs, lighthouses, and day lilies. Being over-achievers and highly competitive, we have all three.

Pellucid: Summer is the only time of year I use this word. And it is the only word that really describes the satiny smoothness of the water ripples, on certain summer evenings.

Pellucid waters

Pellucid waters

Poignant: Summer is a time of so many cherished traditions, involving family and friends. Sometimes I can’t help but think, how long can this last? Can I just freeze this moment in time, with these people, forever? Please?

This photo I took several years ago sums up “poignant” for me—it captures a perfect summer moment.2008 em tess-05

But the ball dropped and splashed. The dog has since passed on, to the big lake in the sky. The girl has grown and is heading to a new stage in her life. The sun set.

The moment passed.

Yet summers continue to roll over us, and catch us up in their charms. We turn our thoughts to new moments to be lived and memories to be made . . .

. . . periods of perfection to be pondered, and exulted in.

That’s my summer—pretty and perfect and Ps-full peaceful.

Has your current (or most recent!) summer been sponsored by a specific letter? Here’s hoping you’ve found it letter perfect!

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My Weaving Ways (mid-July 2015)

How many posts about weaving are too many?

I’m still in the honeymoon stage of my weaving career so I’m spending an inordinate amount of time thinking about weaving, reading about weaving, planning weaving, and weaving.

You’ve been patient and supportive (so far!), so here are some quick photos of my weaving from the last month or so!

I had this fuzzy, tweedy yarn I loved:IMG_6762

And wove it into a scarf with alternating panels of fuzzy and smooth–I didn’t want the fuzzy (and itchy) at the back of the neck.

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On the loom right now is this scarf in black rayon and red silk/wool. The pattern is called Wall of Troy! Sometimes I pick patterns just because I like the name . . .

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It Makes Me Warm and Tingly

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photograph by Joseph Turp

A lot of things make me feel warm and tingly.

You already know about many of them. Handmade makes me warm and tingly. Anything to do with words gets me pretty excited. I love history and tradition and human symbolic behavior.

Another thing that makes me feel all warm and tingly is Magna Carta.

Huh?

That’s right. An 800-year-old document gets me excited and when that document gets incorporated into a modern artwork, a huge piece, hand embroidered by hundreds of hands, working cooperatively? Well! Tingle, tingle!

Magna Carta is 800 years old this year and that has gotten lots of people thinking and talking about what it has meant, to England, to the United States, to democracy and justice.

Magna Carta may mean something different to each individual. I like what it meant to my American forebears, how it influenced the Revolution, and our Bill of Rights. I like that it seems to have led us toward equal justice under the law.

To me, it means that no one is above the law—too important to be bothered by the rules that bind the rest of us—or beneath the law—too unimportant to warrant protection from unfair bias and arbitrary persecution.

So, how about this embroidery?

My pal Gallivanta steered me toward a story that blew me away. You can read about it in detail elsewhere; think of this little post as a “heads up” to go look at the links I’ll include at throughout!

Magna Carta (An Embroidery), undertaken by British artist Cornelia Parker, has it all. The work was commissioned by the Ruskin School of Art at the University of Oxford, along with the British Library, after having been chosen from a group of proposals.

In a nutshell, the project is a facsimile of the Wikipedia entry on Magna Carta, replicated in the most minute detail in hand embroidery, and crafted by over 200 stitchers from all walks of British life. The finished piece measures 4.9 feet wide by 43 feet long (1.5 m × 13 m) and has been on display in the British Library (and will be until July 24—there’s time for you Brits to see it!)

This project moves me in so many ways!

Parker combines the gravitas of history and tradition with a 21st century flair. The meaning and value of Magna Carta has been constantly re-interpreted and re-negotiated over the years so it seems especially appropriate that Parker chose to make her text a screenshot, taken on June 15, 2014, of the Wikipedia entry for Magna Carta.

Because Wikipedia is crowd-sourced and constantly amended by people like you and me, the articles constantly re-negotiated in a largely democratic way, it reflects not official truth but a communal representation of what Magna Carta meant on its 799th anniversary. It seems fitting that an historical document so often adapted to the needs of different people and times is offered to us in a format that is constantly open to our adaptations as well.

Parker also made a conscious choice to take the digitized word and transform it by hand crafting. When the words and images of Wikipedia are translated into embroidery, they are elevated in ways that ask us to re-see and re-think words that may have lost depth of meaning. The stitchers certainly had plenty of time to consider the words they worked on, sometimes as few as one or two. As viewers, we ponder the stitches, as individual as the stitchers who made them, and see the words, as if for the first time.

And consistent with Magna Carta’s principles of justice, fairness, and equality under the law, the embroidery work was done by a large group of stitchers, a group as varied as the peoples Magna Carta has been held up to protect and represent.

Parker drew her stitchers from many sources and walks of life, from peer to prisoner, choosing people who represented groups, like convicts and barristers, that have been associated with Magna Carta.

Over 200 stitchers contributed and the majority of the text was done by prisoners from the social program Fine Cell Work (which deserves a blog post of its own!) The Wikipedia images were re-created by members of the Embroiderers’ Guild, from across the UK. Some of the stitching is expert and exquisite, some is rough and labored. The fabric holds stains, from tea and blood. It is not even and pristine and perfect, any more than is history itself.

Parker invited royalty to contribute but they declined. Other high-profile stitchers contributed, often by stitching words of their own choosing. Lord Igor Judge, who was Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales, the head of the judiciary, from 2008 to 2013, and Lady Judith Judge stitched the words, “Habeas Corpus.” Edward Snowden chose to stitch “liberty,” and Julian Assange, chose one of the instances of “freedom.”

The project seems to me to take the iconic and make it real again, to take the digitized and modern and make it warm and human. The varied stitches in the piece remind us that real people held the needles and that real people both shaped these words originally and are affected by them every day. It reminds that a word such as “freedom” will look, and mean, differently depending on who is uttering or crafting the word.

I hope you’ll go look for yourself. I have no access to photos other than those I can poach from the internet and I don’t like to do that (too much!) You can see many images typing the words “magna carta an embroidery images” into your search engine.

But, really, the best place to see and hear the story is in the video shared by Gallivanta. I predict it’ll make you feel warm and tingly too!

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photograph by British Library

Oh, Arachne . . .

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from The Illustrated Bulfinch’s Mythology by Thomas Bulfinch, Giovanni Caselli (Illustrator)

. . . You should’ve known better. You shouldn’t’ve messed with the gods, Arachne.

Have you ever noticed how many of the myths and legends and fairy tales on which we were nurtured are cluttered with references to makers and making?

When I think back, so many of my favorite stories contain textiles and fibers and women making things of beauty and purpose. We have a princess tasked with spinning gold from straw, a mother-to-be pricking her finger while sewing and imagining her “snow white” baby, a girl making shirts from nettles, to transform her brothers from swans back to men.

Weaving, in particular, pervades old stories. Penelope weaves, and unweaves, her tapestry as she waits for Odysseus’s return. The three norns weave the fate of humans and Philomela, having been raped and her tongue cut out, uses her loom as her voice.

And then there’s foolish Arachne, a mere mortal but exemplary weaver.

Arachne, who lacks humility to a dangerous degree.

Arachne, who boasts of her skill and challenges Athena, the goddess of weaving, to a contest. Arachne, who uses her skill to weave a tapestry that mocks and belittles the gods.

Arachne, who is brought to humility by Athena, and who hangs herself.

Arachne, returned to life by Athena. Returned to life but such a different life, a life that stands as a lesson in humility to other weavers and humans:

Live,” [Athena] said, “guilty woman! And that you may preserve the memory of this lesson, continue to hang, both you and your descendants, to all future times.”

She sprinkled her with the juices of aconite, and immediately her hair came off, and her nose and ears likewise. Her form shrank up, and her head grew smaller yet; her fingers cleaved to her side and served for legs. All the rest of her is body, out of which she spins her thread, often hanging suspended by it, in the same attitude as when Athena touched her . . .

and transformed her into a spider.

Arachne, in my garden

Arachne, in my garden