Thursday, October 16, 2014

Princeton Embroiderers and More Goldwork Adventures

Once again, we headed north to spend two blissful days in the classroom of master teacher Carol Homer, studying two forms of goldwork new to most of us.

The convent we stayed in has room for guests in the same building we had our workshop, and if you're thinking, oh, did they stay in a cell? 

no, we stayed in  rooms with every comfort including a rocking chair in mine, a desk with a good light, plenty of room and bedside lights, and great room names.  Mine was St. Frideswide, whom I shall have to research.

Carol created two projects for us to work on, one a dragonfly to be stitched in the or nue technique (please imagine an acute accent, that's the right leaning one, on that final e)

Or nue is a form of shaded goldwork, where the couched thread is covered in areas with color to create the underlying design, here a dragonfly, while in this example,the gold itself forms the background. Carol had started a silver couched version, to show us how to go on with this technique, a very old one, but new to us.

and the other  project, by special request from those of us who saw Carol's finished example last time we were here, involves working with gold thread over a string background to create a wonderfully textured fleur de lys.  

 Carol, her own fleur de lys to her left, demonstrates how to set up the string supports for a student's work.


The work was totally engrossing, and Carol her usual generous self with advice, suggestions, reference books, endless beautiful materials, willingness to listen as well as talk, wonderful attribute in a teacher.

 And here she focuses on the question posed by a student, to show her the next step.

 Her reference books are rare and among the best you can study.
And to ask her a question is to get not only a complete response, but a stitched example to study, even if she has to whip it up on the spot.  

One question about underside couching had her setting to work to create an example of this difficult technique -- where the tacking thread holding down the gold is pulled through to disappear into the back of the fabric, showing only the gold on the surface.  She explained that this was done to create suppleness in the fabric, usually a priest's vestment.

Her own work is a teaching project in itself, just studying it and seeing the personality she stamps on her stitches, even when she's working in a tradition.  

 Here's a convent angel she's stitching

 And a fantasy tree with great goldwork at the base.
She believes that you have to see the embroiderer in the work, the individual hand creating the effect.

She also believes that a stitcher ought to take down time frequently to allow her eyes to see further, and to straighten up her spine after being intent on a frame for a long period.  Not easy to stop when you're in full flow on a stitching project.  

But we managed it a time or two.

Outside the workshop, we had a spectacular rainstorm or two, and sat cozily indoors drinking tea and watching doughty birds at the feeder, and Pony, the resident pony, out in his field.  The resident indoor friends,  a Manx named, of course, Bob, who obligingly posed for pictures as he kept me company, 

and Jennie, the mild-mannered dog who only barks when someone unauthorized shows up. 

Later, we needed to walk a bit, so we used the cloister just as it was intended -- to walk dry even in rainy weather.

The building itself is a historic, preserved structure, full of staircases and corners and everywhere interesting art, from illuminated lettering, to icons, to stitching wall hangings, the work of resident and past sisters, to freshly arranged flowers, courtesy of Donna.  

Aside from attending workshops -- there's one next week on iconography -- you can  arrange to spend a couple of days with them on a personal retreat, to have quiet time -- silence observed from mid evening to morning, no radios, no television on unless there's a specific program of interest. No wi-fi in the guest rooms.  Request to turn off cellphones throughout the building.  Peace.

There's a labyrinth, built from brick by a convent team, as a devotion, in the Chartres design, which blends in  with its surroundings, and this will draw your humble blogwriter back for a couple of visits, I think. 

That and the birds and the walking and the great company of the sisters and their guests, and the atmosphere of learning and teaching.  Happy place.  Wonderful food, great consideration shown to guests, with invitations to join in religious observances but total acceptance of nonparticipation, too. 

Home again now, with at least one project well started so we can continue even without appealing to Carol H. for help and advice.

Many plans to return there for another step in this journey.