Exquisite Threads (Part I)

Mum and Oma, this one's for you! :)

Last Thursday I treated myself to a trip to the NGV, to see the Exquisite Threads: English Embroidery 1600s-1900s exhibition. For a fibre-arts nerd who has dabbled in embroidery and cross-stitch, it was totally amazing!
I spent over an hour peering closely at the stitches, taking photos, and eavesdropping on a group of women who were explaining the techniques to each other.

Some things I found surprising were the raised or 3D style of embroidery on some of the 17th and 18thC items - this isn't always apparent in photos, so a real-life look was eye-opening. The shading and range of colours was also a surprise, and got me wondering about the dyeing industry for embroidery threads. And the fineness of the work was a shock in some cases - again, it can be hard to imagine the correct scale unless you're actually there.

Click to enlarge the photos for a closer look...

The embroidery on this is very 3D!


A 'stomacher'

The black background is only partially filled-in

Some serious 3D work!

A dear little deer

A detail from a gigantic 19thC piece

See Part II for the samplers (they deserve their own post)!

New pattern: Field of Stars

The first of my two new cowl patterns is now out in the world - hooray!
This golden starry-textured cowl is called Field of Stars, and it's now available for download on Ravelry.

I used one 100g ball of Outlaw Yarn's Vanitas DK, a luxurious blend of 90% alpaca and 10% organic merino, the colour 'Wealth'. If substituting a different yarn, I recommend a DK-weight yarn with good drape and stitch definition (e.g. an alpaca or silk blend).

  • textured stitch patterns including moss/seed stitch borders and an array of stars
  • a photo tutorial is included for the special star stitches
  • one size (short and cosy), with simple instructions for re-sizing both height and circumference if desired
  • a one-skein project: you will need 180 yards of DK-weight yarn
  • full charted and written instructions, so you can follow your preferred type.

The arrangement of stars on the cowl is inspired by the beautiful starry ceilings of some 14th and 15thC chapels and cathedrals. Here are a few of my favourite examples:

Scrovegni Chapel, Padua (source)

Basilica di Santa Croce, Florence (source)

Santa Maria sopra Minerva, Rome (source)
I have a sudden yearning to knit something blue-and-gold!

Consorting with viols

I had a rare treat last night - I got to sing with a consort of viols! A bit like this one, except wearing jeans and woolly jumpers:

Willie and I are staying with the Olivers, who are old-school early music enthusiasts. They play various string and wind instruments including viols, renaissance flutes, a shawm, a rebec, a psaltery, and virginals. They host a viol consort on Monday nights, and Robert invited me to sing some consort songs with them.

Elizabethan consort songs involve a singer plus a viol consort (hence the name), and they're quite challenging because the musical style is dense and complex - each player's musical phrases often overlap with the other players', which can make it tricky to find your place again if you get lost. The secret is to just keep counting!

William Byrd (c.1540-1623)

The songs we had a go at are all by William Byrd, and they are absolutely beautiful. I love that the voice part is really just another instrument - many of these works can be performed just as easily by all singers, or all instruments, or a mixture. The texts are melancholy (and in some cases moralistic), and I enjoyed making the most of the words once I'd got the hang of the notes. I'd like to learn Elizabethan pronunciation at some stage, to make the rhymes and word-play work as they should.

Here are recordings of three of the songs (I couldn't find any online for 'Blame I confess' or 'O that we woeful wretches could')...

'Ye sacred Muses' (1585) - a lament on the death of Thomas Tallis

'O Lord, how vain are all our frail delights' - with text by Philip Sidney

'Weeping full sore' - a 5-part madrigal from Songs of Sundrie Natures

Music to wrap presents by

This is my first Christmas in a long time with no choir to sing with. I'm used to a big build-up of practices and carols concerts, culminating in Midnight Mass (I always skive off on Christmas morning). One of the special things about Midnight Mass at St Mary's was the fun of blasting out carols like 'Hark the Herald Angels Sing' from the choir loft, together with a trio of trumpets and the organ...

I love a lot of the special music for this time of year, so I've tried to make do with listening to recordings and singing on my own. I found an absolute treasure-trove of downloadable free scores at the Choral Public Domain Library (CPDL) site - they have six pages worth of Music for the Advent, Christmas and Epiphany seasons, including traditional carols as well as choral music from the 14th century to the present.

One new discovery is Charpentier's 'Salve puerule':

And here's an old favourite, Bach's Christmas Oratorio:

And this is a lovely concert/documentary hybrid - a special Christmas episode of the BBC series Sacred Music (featuring The Sixteen), 'A Choral Christmas':

I recognised several pieces I've sung over the years, including Victoria's amazing 'O Magnum Mysterium', and the 15thC carol 'There is no Rose of such Virtue'.

Merry Christmas, folks! Enjoy your holiday. :)

Educational ear candy

If you're at all interested in music history, the BBC's 'Sacred Music' (2008) is an excellent documentary series, and it's all available on YouTube. It's nicely in-depth, and best of all, the musical examples are sung by The Sixteen, an awesome and very experienced early music choir.

The first series covers Medieval chant and organum through to Bach's cantatas and passions. It's great to watch for the music alone! There's also a second series which covers later music, which is on my to-watch list.
We're really enjoying our documentaries at the moment. :)

Episode 1: The Gothic Revolution

Episode 2: Palestrina and the Popes

Episode 3: Byrd & Tallis: Singing the Lord's song in a strange land

Episode 4: Bach and the Lutheran Legacy