Posts Tagged laurel

Reflections Upon Becoming a Laurel Vigilant (It’s About Time)

13 January 2016
Genoveva-Vigilant

Me being placed on vigil to join the Order of the Laurel at Pentamere 12th Night on January 9, 2016 (Photo by THL Eva vanOldeBroek)

On Saturday, a significant and pivotal event occurred along my winding path in the SCA. I was invited to join the Order of the Laurel and placed on vigil. For those unfamiliar with this, it is the Society for Creative Anachronism’s highest honor for excellence and mastery in the arts. I am deeply honored to have been chosen to join the Order and I am greatly looking forward to “being a Laurel” and furthering the arts in our Society.

As you might imagine, I am still processing what this means, how I feel about it, and my intentions for my vigil and elevation to the Order. This will likely take me some time. I am definitely the “still waters run deep” sort of person.

There is one matter I would like to address now, however, and that is a sense by some of my dear friends that this was long overdue, that they were surprised it didn’t happen before now, and, well, it’s ABOUT TIME. For those who said this to me, I appreciate your kind words and I understand your sentiment, but I respectfully disagree on those points all save one: it really is about time. But not for the reason you might think.

As a member of the general populace, my perception of when someone was ready to become a Peer had a lot to do with time. I watched my fellow SCA members working at their art, doing their good deeds, and fighting the good fight. When I saw that someone had been doing something for a long time, with a purpose, I generally thought, “hey, someone should make that person a Peer!” I think this happens often, as I hear my friends and other members make similar remarks.

I recall one of my first thoughts about joining the Order came during Pennsic 2013. A friend from out of Kingdom looked at me and said, “You’re a Laurel, right?” Naturally I replied that I was not—I had not even received an arts award at that point. But it planted a seed in my mind. Why did she think I was a Laurel? Was I Laurel material? Should I be one if she thinks I should? Do I want to be one? And so on.

So now that it’s happened and I’ve been placed on vigil, what do I think? Was it long overdue? Was I held back? Were the Order’s expectations on me too hard? Did the Order make me wait too long and cause resentment and frustration and burnout? (All statements I’ve heard uttered.)

A good friend asked that I address these points for the benefit of others who may be thinking along these lines. I’ll do my best to give the honest answers, not just the noble answers. (That’s not easy for me, by the way. Still waters and all that.)

My inexpensive but lovely trestle table

My first A&S project, a table based on St. Jerome in His Study by Albrecht Dürer. I love this table. I’ve made nearly all of my A&S projects on it over the years, and it goes with me to Pennsic annually, too!

Was it long overdue? I started in the SCA in ’97, but didn’t progress. I began again in 2011 and jumped in with both feet. I made my first “thing” within one month (my early 16th c. trestle table), entered my first A&S display a few months later (blackwork), and entered not one, but two, things into my regional A&S competition nine months later (blackwork caul and the red goldwork Swabian gown I was wearing this past Saturday). From my observation of other artisans, this intense behavior was a bit unusual. But it was totally in keeping with my personality. I’m a go big or go home type. From an outside perspective, it may have seemed I was ready before now. Eight first place awards at Kingdom A&S and Pentathlon A&S Champion could give that impression. But despite this obvious enthusiasm, I was still a beginner at recreating period artifacts. It took time for me to dig deeper, understand nuances, create beautiful things that were both visually and structurally appealling  … and I’m still working on that. I have much further to travel and much more to learn. It’s only recently that I began to feel that I was achieving a sense of mastery, of hearing myself speak to others and being amazed at what information I was able to convey, and at my technical abilities that were all built upon one another. Only in the last few months had I finally arrived at a place where — frankly — I was less interested in other’s approval of my art and it was less of a motivation to do better. My motivation was turning inward, becoming more about my journey and less about proving myself to others.

IMG_6019

Me and my 16th c. style carved doll. Displaying and talking about my art took courage.

Was I held back? I don’t know what others have done, but I have no sense of this. It takes time to get to know people, and it took time for the Order to get to know me and see my progress. I won’t fall back on false modesty and say that I didn’t think I was ready, because I was already thinking of myself as a Peer long before I was recognized. If this seems impertinent, you must understand that I do not suffer from low self-esteem. My ego is quite healthy! But just because I know myself does not mean that others do. Part of this journey has been allowing the quiet parts of me to be seen by others. Being out there, displaying my art, writing blogs and tutorials, teaching, and sharing what I know with anyone who asks. These things took time and courage to do. When I consider how long it takes me make big moves in my own relationships, I’m rather impressed the Order came to know this aspect of me as quickly as they did.

Were the Order’s expectations on me too hard? Well, let’s see. My own personal signifier of mastery is the ability to write an entire book about one’s field of study and have it be well respected and regarded by its audience. That’s what I do in my modern world. Did they make me write a book? Have that book win awards? Have that book be a bestseller in its field? No, they did not. Thus, the Order’s expectations are actually lower than my personal ones for myself. (No, I do not expect others to do this in the SCA either, but the expectations I hold myself to are different than what I hold others to.) And for what it’s worth, I would one day like to write down what I know in a book so it can be preserved and shared with others, but I’m still a ways off from that. Just know that that that expectation has not changed just because of this event.

photo(179)

Winning the A&S Pentathlon in 2014 was both joyous and frustrating. It was frustrating not because I thought, “hey, I won now I should be a Laurel” but because it underscored the fact that not everyone was confident in me.

And finally, the big one … Did the Order make me wait too long and cause resentment and frustration and burnout? This one is a less pat answer. I’m rather an impatient person, as can be evidenced by my enthusiasm and history of making things. When I get a notion to do something, darn it, I want to do it. Now. Right away. I hate to wait. This is both a blessing and a curse. If I am completely honest, there were moments of frustration. I felt confident in myself, but there were times it was pretty clear to me that others were not as confident in me. That was difficult for me. But after I cooled off, I could see the solution — if some individual was not confident in me, then it was probably because I wasn’t expressing myself well enough. I usually didn’t even know that person. So then the ball was in my court to get to know them, and if I couldn’t do that for whatever reason (shyness), I could at least try to express myself to the world better. Because in the end, being recognized as a Peer is really just recognition of the awesomeness already present. It won’t change who you are, make you a better person, or anything like that. It’s recognizing something you should already be feeling inside. So, yeah, I felt frustrated when the Order didn’t work as fast as I wanted, but not resentful. Honestly, I’m grateful they even noticed me — I do not like to toil in obscurity. And now that I’ve been placed on vigil, I feel humbled that they chose me at all. It has put many things into perspective for me.

As for burnout, that’s really more about my inclination to take on ambitious projects. That is MY problem. That has nothing to do with the Order. I get burned out all the time. I also bounce back all the time. But the burnouts are usually preceded by burning brightly and making or doing something awesome, often something that challenged me to grow. So that’s alright with me. Life might be a bit boring and mundane for me otherwise.

Of all the things on my mind since this happened, a big one is how my being placed on vigil could make others feel — those who are not yet Peers but might like to be. Maybe someone out there reading this is feeling a bit sad, or overlooked, or just unrecognized.  Why her and not me? Or why her and not this other person? If we’re all honest with ourselves, I bet we all have felt this at one point or another. My best advice, and this comes direct from my psychology degree, is to neither repress this feeling nor to feed it. In time, you will find the ways to express the awesomeness inside you to the point that others recognize it, too. In that way, it really is all about time. Time to be the best you can be, time to share it with others, and time for the Order to recognize it.

Richelieu Cutwork Embroidery Apron and Tutorial

11 January 2016

CutworkTutorialThis weekend my mentor and friend Mistress Crespine de la Vallée was to become a member of the Order of the Pelican, the Society’s highest service award. To celebrate this auspicious occasion, Crespine’s mentor Master Philip White (also my mentor and friend), asked if I would make her an apron. When I queried him as to what sort of apron he envisioned, as there are many fine aprons one could make, he said he once saw an apron with piece work, white embroidery, and a laurel wreath with the pelican inside of it. He told me to let my creative license go. So after some research and consideration to Crespine’s persona of a 16th c. French noblewoman, I decided to make a fine white apron with a cutwork motif.

There was just one hitch—I’d not done cutwork before. I was familiar with the concept and I’ve done drawn thread work, but this was a step beyond. Nevertheless, I love to learn new fabric manipulation and embroidery techniques, so this wasn’t deterring me. Looking online, I could find examples of 16th century cutwork, but no comprehensive tutorials on how to actually reproduce it. I pieced bits together from two web sites (needlework-tips-and-techniques.com and NeedlenThread.com), which introduced the concept but did not go into great detail. I later found a few pages in Encyclopedia of Needlework by Donna Kooler (Leisure Arts, Inc., 2000). The book that really helped me was a 100-year-old book, The Priscilla Hedebo and Cutwork Book by Lilian Barton Wilson (1916), which is reprinted in the Cutwork, Hedebo, & Broderie Anglaise book edited by Jules & Kaethe Kliot (Lacis, 1992). The Cutwork book didn’t have step-by-step instructions, but it had plenty of notes that lead me in the right direction. After that, I learned by doing, which means trying, failing, and trying again until it worked and looked right.

The style of cutwork I learned is typically called French Richelieu cutwork, named after Cardinal Richelieu, who imposed a duty on all Italian imports and then brought lacemakers to France to teach the locals how to do it themselves. Cardinal Richelieu post-dates the Society’s time period by a few decades, but we know the technique existed in the 16th century and was in employ in Italy, France, and the Netherlands, among others. Cutwork pieces were highly prized amongst the royals and nobles throughout Western Europe—Mary Queen of Scots received cutwork as a New Years gift in 1556 and then later made her own “cutit out work” while she was imprisoned. England has sumptuary laws that restricted cutwork clothing and accessories to the rank of baron and above only. (For more historical information, see Needlework Through History: An Encyclopedia by Catherine Amoroso Leslie, 2007). Richelieu cutwork is characterized by freeform designs with buttonhole stitch bars the stabilize the areas of removed fabric.

Here are photos of the cutwork apron I made, and below them is a tutorial on how to create your own Richelieu cutwork piece.

Cutwork-Apron-Worn

The cutwork apron as may be worn

Cutwork-Motif

The laurel-pelican cutwork motif

apron-belt

The belt and the drawnwork hems of the apron

Mistress Crespine wearing her apron

Mistress Crespine wearing her apron

 

Richelieu Cutwork Tutorial

Materials:

High quality linen, the tighter the weave the better (Note: I used 2 oz. white handkerchief linen [WLG 109] from Wm. Booth, Draper @ $32/yard. It is their finest linen, very tightly woven with tiny threads, and is not often in stock, so if you find it, get it. If you can’t get it, go for the 2.8 oz linen.)

White Linen thread 80/3 (available at http://www.wmboothdraper.com/Thread/thread_main.htm)

White silk thread (I used 1 strand of the 12 ply Splendor silk available at http://www.needleworkdiscount.com/product/S — I used cool white) -OR- white coton a border #25 (available at http://www.hedgehoghandworks.com/catalog/FBRDMC107CLRS.php)

A word about the threads—it is important to use the right kind. You need linen thread for the buttonhole bars—they must be strong and durable (cotton will fuzz and look messy). You could use the same linen thread for the buttonhole stitching around the motif, but it looks a bit rough. I preferred either the silk or the coton a border, with a slight preference for the coton a border.

Tools:

Embroidery frame (I used a circular frame because it’s easier to hold in my hands, but you could also use a slate frame)

Small, sharp embroidery scissors (for example: http://www.joann.com/gingher-epaulette-3-1-2in-embroidery-scissors/4655338.html)

Small curved blade scissors (for example: http://www.allstitch.net/product/gingher-312-curved-blade-embroidery-scissors-4718.cfm)

Water soluble pen

Good lighting and maybe magnifier glasses (if you are like me)

Steps:

1. Iron your fabric. You’ll want to start with it as smooth as possible.

2. Create a pattern and trace it onto your fabric with the water soluble pen (test that pen first to make sure it comes off easily). DO NOT use a pattern printed on an inkjet printer and water soluble pen to trace over it — the liquid in the pen will cause some of the ink to come off onto your fabric. Go on, ask me how I know this. (I had to scrap my first yard of fabric because of this mistake.)

PelicanInLaurelPattern

My pelican-in-a-laurel-wreath pattern

3. Put your marked fabric in a frame — pay attention to the tension of the fabric. Tight, but not too tight.

4. Outline your pattern using parallel running stitches set 1/8″ apart — I liked to sew along the inside edge of my markings and then along outside edge, and that usually put my two lines of stitching at about 1/8″ apart. Be careful not to pull these stitches tight, as that would pucker the fabric.

cutwork-outline-stitch

5. As you are outlining your pattern, whenever you reach a point where your pattern calls for a buttonhole bar, you should stitch the bar. To do this, bring your needle up between your parallel lines of running stitches and take it across to the parallel stitching on other side, over where the cutout area will be. Do this three times (so you have three threads going across) and then begin the detached buttonhole stitching over these three threads until you get back to your original side. It’s crucial to keep the buttonhole bar from twisting as you work it — I found the best way to do this was to work the buttonhole stitching toward me in a consistent manner, pulling the stitching tight as I went along. This video shows the stitch orientation/direction that I refer to: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9r637AfscS8

cutwork-outline-bars

6. Once your pattern is outlined and all your buttonhole bars in in place, you need to stitch around each element that will NOT be cut out. Stitch over the two parallel lines, usually you can align the bottom of your stitch with the bottom running stitch and the top of your stitch with the top running stitch. You’ll use the buttonhole stitch again for this, but in this case it is not detached and it’s important that the flat, corded edge of the buttonhole stitch is against the edge that will be cut out. Do not yet cut out any material — that will be done after you complete the buttonhole stitching. Again, do not pull too tightly — just pull enough to get clean, neat stitching. Do not be tempted to cut out material first thinking that will make for a cleaner edge — while the edge will be cleaner, but your stitched edges will ruffle and pucker, rather than lay flat, and it won’t look as good.

buttonhole-stitch

7. After your buttonhole stitching is complete, it’s time to cut out the areas of fabric that are stabilized by the buttonhole bars you placed in step 5. Using the sharp, straight blade scissors, carefully cut a line down the center of an area you want to cut out. Then turn the fabric over and use the curved blade scissors to VERY CAREFULLY cut the fabric away right up to the edge of the stitching. I recommend you keep your fabric in your frame as you cut to provide tension and a better view of what you’re doing. If you cut too close, you’ll snip the buttonhole threads and you’ll need to go back and mend them, so cut carefully. I did have to mend in a couple spots — it’s not easy to cut close, but not too close, with such dense threads and fabric. In the photo below, you can see areas where I haven’t managed to cut away all the threads of the fabric yet.

cutting-out-cutwork

8. When done, dampen your fabric to remove any trace of the water soluble pen, then wash your piece by hand. Allow it to air dry. Inspect your piece for any stray bits of threads at the cut edges and snip them off carefully. Iron flat.

 

Tips

When creating your pattern, you want to place buttonhole bars every 1/2″ or so, as well as at the tips of pointy bits (or they’ll just flap about). Avoid bars across too large of a cutout area; instead, keep a small bit of fabric there or even an eyelet to stabilize things and give your bars a midpoint to anchor in.

Your buttonhole stitching (step 6) does not need to be really close together, and in fact, if you get it too close it tends to look sloppy. Try leaving just a thread’s width of space in between each stitch and from 10″ away it looks neater and just as smooth.

Pay attention to the thread as you pull it off the spool or skein, and thread your needle with it the same each time. Remember, thread has a twist and you want consistent results.

In the same vein, be sure to do all your buttonhole stitching in the same direction for a consistent look. It really does make a difference.

 

Apron Construction Notes

I chose to create a flat rectangle style apron (rather than one gathered into the waistband) so that the cutwork would be displayed to its best advantage. I attached the top 2/3 of it to a simple band that served as the belt.

I hemmed the top and bottom edges with the drawn thread work hemstitch (see my tutorial here).

The right and left edges had threads drawn from them as well, but I did not do the same drawnwork hemstitch — I just kept it as drawn threads because I liked the look.

 

Creation Notes

I did not embroider the blood droplet on the pelican, but I bled on the apron while stitching — so I think that still counts. -grin-

The heart at the top of the motif is from my device (a winged heart).

My soundtrack while working on this was the radio station on Fallout 4 (Gregor got it for Christmas and I sat on the couch while he played each evening) and the entire audiobook of The Martian.

I estimate this project took 110 hours. (I  Mistress Crespine.)

 

I would love to see anything you make — please share! I’m always happy to answer questions. Feel free to e-mail me at genoveva.von.lubeck (at) gmail [dot] com