Thursday, October 4, 2007

Three for the Show

Today's installment comes in three parts, owing to the need for a few smaller motifs between the bigger spots.

Antique Dutch samplers have been littered with little golden crowns, a tribute to revered nobility. Heart motifs are also popular, and frequently one finds a combination in a crowned heart motif, which is an emblem of great love. This fine example is from "And They Sinned" by the Examplar Dames. Now, the Irish might have something to say about the crowned heart being a "Dutch" symbol, seeing as how they have been using this symbol as a decoration of true love for centuries. (The town of Claddagh, for which the icon is known, is incontestibly located on the Irish coastline.) I've not seen hands on the Dutch version, though. Actually, I haven't seen many "hands" on Dutch sampler figures. Perhaps something to do with their laissez-faire attitude.

In my version, it is the spade that is crowned. To my knowledge, there is only one other instance of a crowned spade in the history of the Netherlands... and here she is. Scallawags Ace of Spades was crowned Bullterrier Bitch of the Year in 2002. Sadly she passed away in 2005, her owner saying, "We all say farewell to a big bitch with an even bigger heart". Notice how this loops back around to love and hearts.

For centuries farmers and homesteaders have used a yoke for carrying heavy loads. With a strong agricultural history, it is no wonder this is often represented as a motif on Dutch samplers. If you can't make out what my young "farmer" is toting, stay tuned for the next installment. I'm just sorry his buffalo plaid shirt didn't come out better in my photo.

And for the last of the three new spots, it's fairly obvious what the doggies are up to. This motif was inspired by an antique motif of two pups fighting over a bone. Although that would still have total relevance in the current day, I wanted to update it to show what dogs today can have for objects of possessive jealousy. Yes, these two are trying to share a brand new AKC Mallard Dog Toy, complete with Honker, on sale now for $8.99. Availability in the Netherlands has not been established, but I see versions of this in every grocery store here in the dog food aisle. I find the toy a little unsettlingly realistic, so I opted for the purple squeaky cow "Mad Cow". Don't worry the birds get revenge in a later motif.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Little Dirty Birdie's Feet

After last week's realization that They Might Be Giants had a new album out, I of course had to go buy a copy. I also scored big with a used copy of their compilation album ($9 for 80 minutes of classic TMBG). But the real cost turned out to be getting a very silly song stuck in my head. My favorites ranged from songs about how underappreciated former President Polk is and the all-time classic "Instanbul (not Constantinople)", but my brain keeps humming "Oh the sun is a mass of incandescent gas, a gigantic nuclear furnace..." Imagine it as if Bill Nye took up the accordion. Gotta love this band... or hate them. I imagine there aren't a lot of people in the middle of those two extremes.

It's an old maxim that birds of a feather flock together. While stitching this last week I completed two motifs with birds dissimilar in feather, but united in their birdie evilness. Once the "dirty birdie" phrase clicked into my head I thought I had a chance of displacing "We need it's heat; We need it's light..." But the Gopher Guts song hadn't a chance.

Now about these birds. The top scene was taken from the local vineyard. I swear that when I started stitching it there were three skinny little birds and lots of grapes. I turned my back for 2 minutes and BAM! No merlot this year. As for the lower scene, if you recall, Don Quixote's hat is actually a metal barbering bowl, so it should rinse clean without much after affect.

If the three little gray stitches (you know which ones I mean) offend you, you can leave them out, but I offer that the J Paul Getty Center thought bird poop was classy enough to use for a major ad campaign. Even the President isn't imune to this natural phenomenon. God, I love Google!

Sunday, September 2, 2007

They Might Be Giants

TMBG - more than just a great band! {Actually they ARE a personal favorite of mine from back in the late 80's. When I looked up the web link, it was cool to see they are still going strong.}

What can be more iconic of The Netherlands than the windmill. Around here, there are two distinct windmill styles: The rickety Old West (left) "Let's water the hogs" style and the modern "Let's make some serious electricity" version on the right. Click the photo on the right to see this wind farm about 60 miles from me - you will want to see it full screen. It is impressive, but not the stuff that samplers are made of. I decided to use the traditional Dutch sampler windmill shape (center more-or-less). And rather than "do" something evil to the windmill, I chose a more quixotic approach.

"Look over there, friend Sancho Panza, where more than thirty monstrous giants appear. I intend to do battle with them and take all their lives ...
As he spoke, he dug his spurs into his steed Rocinante, paying no attention to his squire's shouted warning that beyond all doubt they were windmills . . . Covering himself with his shield and putting his lance in the rest, he urged Rocinante forward at a full gallop and attacked the nearest windmill, thrusting his lance into the sail. But the wind turned it with such violence that it shivered his weapon in pieces, dragging the horse and his rider with it, and sent the knight rolling badly injured across the plain."
-- Cervantes

And for Claire, who asked so sweetly to see how the whole thing was coming along...

About a third of the way done now. I'm really hoping to get the pace picked up now that the kids are back in school and a few competing projects are well in hand. I've also commited to capture some of these blogular ramblings in some form to be included in the chart pack.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

The Real Thing

Here we find at the lower left corner of the sampler a little family gathering. On an antique sampler, these ladies would have been sharing a cup of tea and discussing the price of tulips. On the topic of the price of tulips and 17th century Holland, I would most highly recommend the book by Gregory Maguire called Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister (as well as everything else he has written). It is an entirely fictional (if that isn't obvious) retelling of Cinderella from the stepsister's point of view, but most entertaining and does paint a colorful picture of the era.

Back to the tea party...I am totally into drinking tea, but by no means am a tea-totaller. Nor can I recall the last time my tea was dispensed from a teapot. Actually I'm exaggerating; I can recall - It was at the Oregon Tea House in Silverton where a group of stitcher's met in March for tea and sharing our stitching. FYI, I think the most wonderful black tea is Czar Nikolas II Premium Russian Tea. (I cheat a bit since this tea is loose leaf only, but I find the tea ball a nuisance and I already mentioned I didn't use a pot. I put spoonful of leaves in one of these strainer thingies and pour the boiling water on top. It's not quite cricket, but gets the job done.)

My family is lucky enough to still all eat meals together at the table. Since there are no men/boys, however, this must not be my family. These ladies appear to be sharing a Vegetarian Delight Extra Large Pie from Brick House Pizza. Notice that Grootmoeder Bea likes to eat hers "crust first". Now that is living on the edge! See the twee honden underneath the table, just waiting for a mushroom to roll onto the floor. And due solely to the power of suggestion, I can convince you that those 8 red stitches are a can of coke and the 8 green are the anti-cola.

I've learned that while pizza is a classic American thing, be wary of Dutch pizza. The Netherlands Board of Tourism paid for a group of American bloggers to eat their way through Amsterdam. Their comment regarding Dutch pizza " I hate to have to tell you, but pizza here is awful. No - not just awful...gawd awful." See the whole article.

Now, it is up to you to decide whether the motif placement is arbitrary or malicious. It looks like little Liza might be about to get the ol' geranium to the cranium. Glad I didn't think of that on purpose...or did I? Perhaps when the other motifs fill in, the effect won't be so morbid.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Nuts to You, Dog!

Meet the Toaster, a fine canine specimen embodying all of those traits that define dogness. I showed Toaster a picture of the "Tree of Life" motif that decorates many samplers from many nations. He immediately became excited and needed to be let outside.

From the dog's perspective, the tree icon brings about strong mental images, for even the domesticated dog is a hunter and the tree is a rich hunting ground. In both the yard and in the samplers, we sometimes see the tree filled with birds, but when the dog shows up the birds take wing. However, if we fill the tree with chattering squirrels, the dog is endlessly amused. The squirrels are treed long enough to be captured in silk, along with the watching and barking hounds below. What more fitting way is there to portray the "Tree of Life, According to Dogs".

The white dog on the left is Toaster. The tan dog on the right is Gunnar, who belongs to Carrie (of Carrie's Threads) and who is equally squirrelly when it comes to squirrels. I fully expect stitchers to customize this motif to represtent their favorite pups.

In case you were wondering, here is how the overall project is going, this being the lower right quarter.
I should also point out that I do not condone violence against squirrels. I am very thankful that Toaster has yet to even come close to getting a paw on one of these. And it am terribly repelled by the notion that eating squirrel is considered normal in some places. (Haven't they heard of the Mad Squirrel version of Mad Cow disease?!?) Normal enough so that it has even made the folk music headlines. "Squirrel Heads in Gravy" is one of the classic fiddle tunes that our local mountain dulcimer group plays. You can download our sheet music for this song here (honestly!) Catchy little tune.

Now, I wouldn't consider my job complete if I didn't do a little research into possible Dutch implications and coincidences. Are you aware of the Squirrel Rescue Foundation of the Netherlands? It is apparently the only organization in the Netherlands of its kind, AND the only entity that can legally transport and care for the red squirrels there. Dutch squirrel populations are in decline and the government takes that very seriously. I am quite sure postal regulations would prevent me from sending a crateful of critters from my backyard over to Amsterdam, but at least these eight little silk Dutch squirrels will be preserved. (Actually, there are more than eight in the total design but the dogs haven't found them yet.)

Friday, July 13, 2007

Monkey Shines

A small offering this week, but we need plenty of small motifs to fill in the nooks between larger spots.
What Dutch sampler could be complete without the spinning monkey? Although upon first viewing, many of you may not have known what that rather scary looking motif was. The one at right is from Permin's Dutch Beauty. I was enlightened on this whole monkey symbolism after reading a lovely historically-based article in the fall 2006 issue of Sampler and Antique Needlework Quarterly. It's a nice magazine with another stunningly ugly example of that monkey on the issue's cover (it looks like he is wearing a bright red pullover). The monkey typically represented mischief and lechery - the folly of man. In the motif, s/he is usually seated in a chair and hand-spinning flax or something from a distaff. Yes, that really is supposed to be a monkey! In the end, I had to add the ugly ears to my monkey to keep it from looking like a cat on the bicycle.

I am a knitter and a spinner and distinctly recall the conversation I overheard a few years back in a yarn shop that inspired my version of this motif. Two women were talking about this "great new spinning class" they were taking. How the instructor was such a cute guy (!) and how much they were learning. Without blatently eavesdropping, I tried to learn more, but it just wasn't making sense. It was this final confusing remark by one gal that left me with a deep sense of being led on and tricked. She mentioned that she wished the Court Club near her would get their own spinning class so she wouldn't have to cross town. Doh! Even in a yarn shop, "spinning" meant bicycles and not wool.

Perhaps a slight bit of an anachronysm here, as the bicycle wasn't invented until 1817, but it seems perfectly fitting to have a bicycle on a Dutch sampler. The Dutch lead the world (save for China) in bicycle use. I was simultaneously impressed by the Dutch and disgusted by my own country's statistics. I guess the speed skating can only get the Dutchmen from place to place during the winter months.

Needless to say little Monkey Shines liked the retro look and opted for the orange Schwinn with the mustache handlebars. She had them remove the sissy bar (it interfered with her tail) and had them upgrade her to a banana seat.... which she promptly ate.

I did also want to thank everyone who has left such nice comments here and on various forums. I'm glad you are all sharing in my fun, because it wouldn't actually be any fun without having someone with whom to share these jokes.

Thursday, July 5, 2007

The Races of Man

Don't send the ransom money... I have escaped. It's taken a bit longer to get this latest update posted - I guess everything moves a bit slower in the summer heat. Or maybe it was because I foolishly chose color placement in this motif that had me changing thread colors every six stitches. Seriously, I have done entire samplers with fewer color changes! I am, nonetheless, happy with the results and would do it again.

One of the reasons for all the color changes was to ensure diversity. The name of this motif is "The Races of Man" but its not the kind of race you might assume. A classic motif in many samplers (shown above right) depicts the Ages of Man. The Dutch clearly had some secret fountain of youth going, as each of these steps represents a decade in a man's life and most samplers with this motif show 9 or 10 steps (although sometimes the 10th figure is horizontal or ~morbidly~ inside a casket).

Now, five of these little guys seemed plenty for my sampler, lest they completely overrun the bottom row and squeeze out much funnier visual puns.

So where else might we see several little dutch pesons in a pyramid formation? - At the 2006 Winter Olympics awards ceremony! Nine medals: All in Speed Skating. According to the wiki entry, the Dutch have won 75 of their 78 Olympic medals in the Speed Skating department (and the other three in figure skating.) Take note that my medalists are sporting the ubiquitous ringlets in shades of gold, silver, and bronze.

This speed skating trivia fact answers a looming question regarding Dutch samplers - Why are the people always wearing jodpuhrs (see the Mark and Dave motif for some classic Dutchman's Breeches action)? Answer - All Dutchmen are speed skaters and have thighs the size of tree trunks!

Now for that second question - why are they wearing those funny hats?
This is most easily seen using our bronze medalist above. Use your finger to cover up his little pointy hat - He looks just like Larry Fine. Eek. Quickly remove your finger to put his hat
back on.

PS. There is nothing funny about that flower pot.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Donut Heads of the Caribbean

A quick survey of antique Dutch samplers will make it clear that Dutch stitchers were very fond of the little ringlet element (a backstitched circle with a square in it, all neatly fitting into a 3 by 3 stitch area). They used it to make very decorative alphabets by plastering a series of them on all sides the letters (the Friesian sampler stitchers raised this technique to a national art form). They used ringlets to make various geometric designs. Here is a lovely example of a Dutch sampler using ringlets in various ways. (BTW, this wonderful sampler is by Diane Jourdan of Sampler Cove and is available in this month's Gift of Stitching magazine - well worth subscribing to.)

The Dutch also used these little donuts as HEADS. Although donut-headed people are sometimes shown as farmers, windmill-tenders, and what not, the most common occupation for a donut-head was the sailer. I do not know why.

Every Dutch sampler needs at least one ship, so here she is, complete with seven donut-heads. During the design phase, I was unsure what tragedy was to befall my ship - iceberg? sandbar? capsized? pirates (try making a jolly roger that small! And eye-patches over what - the donut hole?) As you can see, my question was answered when one of the poor donut-heads fell overboard. Eyewitness reports vary as to whether the cause was too much rum or clumsy heroism as the mate attempted to get the doggy down from the rigging.

BTW, boys, your anchor has gotten aweigh.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

The Beast Has Been Loosed

Welcome to what I hope will become an entertaining stitching diversion. Many of you are familiar with the rich history of Dutch samplers and their many symbolic motifs. One of the more famous of these is by Permin and is called Dutch Beauty. The sampler I am creating aims to have a little fun with wordplay, imagery, and basic silliness, all drawing from the wonderful style and sensibility of the traditional Dutch samplers. It seemed only fitting to title this project the Dutch Beast.

Each of the main motifs in this sampler has been designed to look like an authentic Dutch motif until you look a bit closer or start thinking, "What on earth?" The jokes are sometimes subtle enough that only a sampler afficianado will pick up on them without a hint. I apologize to and offer thanks to the Dutch.
Official-like Notice: It will never be my intent to offend - I promise not to deliberately toy with any obvious Christian symbols (crosses, churches, etc) but please recognize that so many traditional symbols have some biblical basis or parallels that I would be left with but a windmill and a dog if I let those alone also.

Let me introduce the first motif "Mark and Dave" and explain how this all got started:

So many samplers have a motif for Joshua and Caleb, the grape bearers. They were sent into Canaan to see what bounties were there and bring them back. The motif shows the two men carrying back such a large bundle of grapes that it boggled the eyes.

I love this motif and have in my stash pile a lovely sampler designed by Gigi (in red above). I live in a big wine growing area (the mid-Columbia Valley in Washington state), so the motif seemed particularly appropriate. I was wondering, if Joshua and Caleb were sent in today what they would find.

My answer came soon when my husband read from the newspaper that fishermen were all in a frenzy to catch the world record walleye - right in this region. Scientists predicted based on records, that it would be a beauty. Our friends Mark and Dave took my husband and headed down for the river, hoping to land Walter.
Did you ever see a postcard like this? I saw one once with two guys carrying a trout that big. I couldn't find it now so you'll have to settle for the giant rabbit and your imagination.
Well, once my mind starts on something it has to play out its course. I started looking at other Dutch motifs and couldn't help myself. Tune in soon to see the next travesty.
BTW, major thanks to Vikki Clayton for feeding this beast silk, and Pat at Lakeside Linens for providing the playground.

Saturday, June 2, 2007

Floss Toss - A Dutch Treat

I received a lovely packet of linen on Friday from Pat at Lakeside Linens. The three big contenders for the project were Navy Bean, Maritime White, and Lentil - all in the Vintage variety. I love them all, but think the Vintage Navy Bean will be the one.

Now for some beautiful silks, hand-dyed by the one and only Vikki Clayton. You can see the first round draft picks in the photo.

The list includes (I tried for left to right order):
  • Umbrage 3471
  • Owl
  • Brown Ale
  • Haywains 4131
  • Haywains 4129
  • Pachyderm
  • Pewter
  • Ebony
  • Steel Wool
  • Half Verdigris
  • Pine
  • Rock Pile
  • Pecan
  • Brown Berry
  • Fish Pepper 4429
  • Rum Scullion 4337

Now, you may ask, what are we going to be making... You'll have to wait just a little longer to see.