Saturday, November 24, 2012

Books: A Few of My Favourite Things!

Much of what I have learned about quilting and needlework in general, I have learned from books and magazines. Most books give specifics for the "how to", as well as issue patterns. There are many excellent books on the subject of needlework, many in my own library. Below are a few new books that I have recently acquired.

Within the last number of years, I have devoted much time to learning about the southern French needleart of boutis. Aside from describing the technique, I have also learned much about the rich heritage and tradition of this craft from books. Learning about the history of French needlework has made me understand the importance of the design of a quilt. With information that I have retrieved from books, I feel that it has added a new dimension and significance to the things that I make.

"Piecework" is one of the few magazines I subscribe to. Each issue has articles and stories describing the rich history of different types of needlework from around the world. Some recent articles were about the Bayeaux tapestry in France, the handwork described in novels by Jane Austen, Fanny Burney, Charlotte Bronte, etc., the history of Estonian lace, Chinese embroidery, etc.. A great read for a rainy, dark Sunday afternoon.

"Selvedge" magazine is another favourite. It is informative of the contemporary fibre art scene, and often discusses the history of a specific technique as well. The photography and style of the magazine itself is a work of art.

"Mastering Precision Piecing" by Sally Collins is an excellent how-to on piecing. The Quilt Show, an on-line quilting program (, recently made Sally's accompanying video available for all of it's members. It was one of the best classes in piecing that I have seen, and is meant both for new quilters as well as more experienced quilters who have perhaps given up precision for speed. A very good remedial class.

"Piece by Piece" is by award winning quilter Sharon Schamber. Her quilts are amazing! The intricacy of her designs and the precision workmanship is worth a study.

Discussing quilts and the women who made them in 19th century America is "Hearts and Hands: The Influence of Women and Quilts on American Society" by Pat Ferrero, Elaine Hedges and Julie Silber. I have not yet had time to read this book, but it looks very intriguing and includes some great photography of life in the 19th century as well as photos of 19th century quilts.

Since beginning my study of boutis, Kathryn Berenson's book, "Quilts of Provence: The Art and Craft of French Quiltmaking", has been my textbook. Much of my interest in boutis, as well as much of what I have learned, comes from this book.

"Marseille: The Cradle of White Corded Quilting" is her newest book on the history this French needlework, focussing on "white corded quiting", or boutis. It is already a new favourite of mine.

Even with the incredible amount of information available on the internet today, books should not be underestimated nor set aside. For me, it is still a very useful resource, and a well used, often referred to book is a teacher who available at all times.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

The Tristan Quilt at the V & A

On our recent visit to London, one of our first stops was at the Victoria and Albert Museum. Established in 1852 and named for Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, who were strong supporters of it's founding, the museum is a facility that is both educational and cultural, and open to everyone. It is here, in the "Medieval and Renaissance Gallery" that I finally saw the "Tristan Quilt", one of the earliest surviving quilts showing stuffed, corded whitework (known as "Boutis" in France).

A Chihuly chandelier hangs in the grand lobby of the Victoria and Albert Museum.

Medieval needlework was often a medium for storytelling. It told of wars and conquests, heros and warriors, love won and love lost, etc. Myths and legends were recorded for future generations through the nimble fingers of the artisans. Through the intricately depicted figures stitched into the Tristan Quilt, this classic Norman legend follows Tristan into battle and tells the tale of love and deception between Tristan and Isolde.

The quilt has been traced to an atelier in Sicily, Italy between 1360 - 1400. Because linen was widely available in Italy and France, and because of it's sturdy, long-lasting nature, it was used in many antique needlework pieces. In this quilt, the atelier used linen for both the top and backing of the quilt as well as linen thread for the stitching.

A close-up view shows the deterioration of the fabric, however, a great deal of restoration has taken place to preserve this item from further decline. Even so, some of the original stitches are still in place. I find it quite amazing and awe-inspring to think that someone, more then 600 years ago, living in a world completely foreign to our world today, likely working in conditions that we would consider quite harsh, skillfully placed those stitches with diligence and patience.

The quilt is displayed behind glass, so it was possible to get up very close and study the stitching in the images. A significant portion of the quilt has stitching that is deeply imbedded into the fabric and I would venture a guess that those would be original. A thrilling concept!

Below are several close-ups of the quilt.
The text surrounding the figures describes the scene.

Letters and channels were likely corded, while the larger areas were stuffed with cotton wadding.

Note the fine stitching around the King's head. Known as "point rapproche" (closely spaced, back and forth running stitch), it is still commonly used today in "boutis" and acts as a type of stipple stitch.

Close-up of the stitching. The brown thread outlining the flower and the vine is done in "point de piqure", the tiny backstitch that is one of the main stitches used in "boutis".

The Tristan Quilt on display at the V & A is only a portion of the whole quilt. A sister quilt hangs in the National Museum of the Bargello in Florence, Italy.

Not to be missed when at the museum, is a tea break  in the restaurant. The freshly baked scones and clotted cream keep me coming back!

Even the tile work on the floor of the restaurant provides inspiration for a future project.
I first heard about the "Tristan" quilt when visiting the "Maison du Boutis" in Calvisson, France.  On display at this museum is a reproduction of the "Tristan Quilt', made by Madame Francine Nicolle, founder and director of "Maison du Boutis", and the Association of "les Cordelles". After the quilt was completed, it was displayed next to the original at the V & A in London in December of 2009. When not on loan, the reproduction quilt now hangs at the "maison du Boutis" in Calvisson. Check out their website for further information about the process and the quilt.