November 18, 2014

Embroidery in Wood?

        Doing a little research for the barely-begun sequel to The Extraordinary Book of Doors, I came across some wood block print designs for embroidery.  This isn’t really a surprising thing, since as long as woodcuts were the technology available for illustrating books, they were made to illustrate and instruct on all manner of activities.  I find it interesting that at least some of these books of textile designs were marketed not to professionals but to gentlewomen at home.  I expect that in the Victorian era, but not in the 16th century.
        Technically, the carving took a lot of skill.  In this middle piece particularly it would have been difficult - and quite tedious - to carve out the interior of every little square in the grid, leaving behind only the thin lines in between.  This design is truly intended to lay out exactly how to make the design, so it requires that level of technical accuracy.  The third piece, by contrast, is carved more traditionally, and is more in the nature of inspiration or general ideas for embroidery than an actual design to follow.  I’m intrigued by the hoops around the dogs’ middles, as well as by the winged sprites or fairies growing out of the flowers.  They’re like mermaids, only botanical.  Somebody was clearly doodling!
        My favorite embroidery design, however, is the first one, also the earliest.  I like the black-on-texture carving style, and I like the variety of patterns, from naturalistic to stylized to geometric.  This would actually be easier to carve than the others, but I like the balance of 
black and white.  I’m guessing that with books of this sort none of the craftspeople involved were considered Artistes.  Nevertheless, they had mastered their skill and used it to create something both useful and pleasing.  I wonder how many women embroidered these very designs, and what color schemes they chose to bring these black and white guidelines to life.

[Pictures: Page 1 from Ein ney Furmbüchlein, woodcut designed by Johann Schönsperger the Elder, c. 1525-30 (Image from The Metropolitan Museum of Art);
Woodcut from Ornamento Delle Belle & virtuose Donne by Matteo Pagano, 1554 (Image from The Metropolitan Museum of Art);
Woodcut from La vera perfettione del disegno, by Giovanni Ostaus, 1567 (Image from mfa).]

4 comments:

  1. The Aging WordsmithNovember 18, 2014 at 8:14 PM

    This is cool. I have a question. Can someone take a piece of embroidery or tatting or lace and glue it to a board and print from that? Has that ever been done? Strikes me it would be easier than trying to carve a fine piece of embroidery, stitch by stitch.

    And yes -- what are those hoops around the dogs' middles?

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  2. Yes, you can print from anything that has a texture. When you use such materials to make a printing block, that's a collagraph. But a collagraph isn't going to be sturdy enough to print an entire edition of a book, and it wouldn't be easy to make it mix with type for printing a book. Finally, depending on the pattern in question, it wouldn't necessarily show all the necessary details of the design because the ink only hits the highest surfaces or, if you try to ink more heavily, might glom up the smaller spaces.

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  3. The Aging WordsmithNovember 21, 2014 at 8:28 AM

    Okay. I've been doing a lot of thinking about those hoops around the dogs' torsos. Hula hoops, perhaps; more likely automatic car wash sites for racing dogs too busy to slow down; or this may be more plausible, portable veterinary CAT scan devices. Here's one a bit far fetched -- a Glasgow Celtic "hoops" shirt for K-9 soccer fans.

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  4. Ha! I like the dogwash theory. I was thinking perhaps sixteenth century prototypes for the 1950's slinky dog.

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