22 January 2012

Quilters' Connection workshop

Lots of activity in the lower level of St. Brigid's church.
On January 14, my quilt guild continued its wonderful tradition of Free Winter Workshops.  Members share their skills and knowledge with each other, and it's one of the reasons this guild is so special. Workshops  included  scarf making, free motion machine quilting, beading, thermofax screen printing and even a session on Ursula Kern-style paper piecing, taught by someone who'd taken Kern's workshop last year.  Organizing all of this - from eliciting workshop listings in October, to sign-up in November, to final clean-up after the event - is quite a challenge, but worth it, and not just for the free lunch also on offer.

I've fallen in love with sashiko stitching; this and a guilty feeling that I haven't contributed enough to my guild, propelled me to volunteer to teach an afternoon session on basic sashiko stitchery.  Of course, not having taught adults since 1983, when I led an inter-session quilting class at MIT, I'd forgotten how much time is takes to prepare materials, especially for a first-time class. As I stitched samples, photocopied page after page for my handouts, and made frantic emails to my sashiko supplier, I began to wonder if it was all worth it.  When surrounded by my fellow guild members, however, the answer became an emphatic "yes!"
We learn about sashiko materials.
Stitching samples and student work in progress.
 Special thanks to class participants Laura, who brought a power strip with a lengthy cord, so we could plug in our Ott lamps, and Barbara, who helped me lug all my items from my car.

We learn, but also connect, at the workshops.

My contribution to sashiko pedagogy.
We used the pre-printed hemp pattern as our class project. As the stitching sequence directions that come with Olympus patterns are a bit cryptic, I stitched a color-coded sample to delineate the optimal stitching sequence.  Participants also received a black and white line drafted pattern, which they color-coded with Sharpie pens I provided. 

Students color-code their stitching diagrams.
 I decided against making color copies of the pattern, partly due to the expense (workshop leaders are not reimbursed); additionally I hoped that students would really grasp the concepts behind the stitching pattern if they colored it in themselves. Whether or not the samplers are finished, each participant will perhaps have a better appreciation of the process involved in the creation of any sashiko stitching she may view at a show or exhibition.

Demonstrating pattern transfer onto plain fabric.
As is usually the outcome when teaching, I learned as much, if not more, from my fellow guild members, and am very grateful to them for their support and good humor.

21 January 2012

Medieval Art: The Lewis Chessmen at The Cloisters

 Several of the Lewis Chessmen.

On January 19, spouse, daughter and I went to The Cloisters, an outpost of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, located at the very northwestern tip of Manhattan. There are many reasons to visit The Cloisters, but on this occasion we were on a mission to see the Lewis Chessmen, medieval chess pieces from the British Museum.  Formally titled The Game of Kings: Medieval Ivory Chessmen from the Isle of Lewis, the display of these amazing survivors from the twelfth century, carved from walrus ivory, ends April 22, 2012.  More info on The Cloisters can be found at http://www.metmuseum.org/visit/visit-the-cloisters/ 

 Photography of the chess pieces was not allowed, 
so this is my only onsite special exhibit image.

Note that for those with stamina, your paid admission to The Cloisters also entitles you to same-day admission to The Metropolitan's main museum, and if you buy an audio guide at The Cloisters, as we did, save the receipt and get an audio guide for free at the Met.

King chess piece.

The artisan(s) who made these pieces modeled the drapery of robes and tunics with care on both seated and standing figures; even the horse trappings have a sense of weight and fluidity.

If these pieces look vaguely familiar, it may be because they inspired the chess pieces used by Ron Weasley and Harry Potter when Ron instructs Harry in Wizard's Chess at Hogwarts. The set designers cannily adapted existing, historical objects to create props and this authenticity of the source material assists the movie-goer in suspending disbelief.  

The story of the Lewis chessmen, so-called because they were dug up by a Scottish crofter on the Isle of Lewis in 1831, is a tale with a bit of mystery and intrigue.  James Robinson, curator of medieval collections at the British Museum, recounts the tale of the seventy-eight known pieces in a concise, profusely illustrated book The Lewis Chessmen, a volume of the British Museum Objects in Focus series. (ISBN 978 0 7141 5023 9)

Ron introduces Harry to Wizard's Chess in  
Harry Potter and the Sorceror's Stone.
Ron's set is based on the Lewis Chessmen.

Reproduction chess set. Image source:

Painted Wooden Box, 1200 - 1225, Southern France.

The wooden box above features warriors with colorful helmets and shields similar to those sported by the chessmen; there is speculation that some of the chessmen were painted red, as shown in the reproduction set and in the Harry Potter film.

Pink marble colonnade from the Saint-Michel-de-Cuxa 
monastery in the Pyrenees Mountains.

Of course, a highlight of The Cloisters, is, well, the medieval cloisters, abandoned structures painstakingly removed from their European homes, imported to America, and reconstructed on a Hudson River palisade, courtesy John D. Rockefeller and his architect Charles Collens.  

So, having admired the chessmen, we viewed other products of the medieval imagination, including these fantastical carved capitals in the Cuxa Cloister, above, including imagery of mermaids, and of lions devouring hapless mortals.

 Column capital, St.-Guilhem Cloister, details.
Left, the mouth of Hell. 
Right, above, sinners in chains.
Right, lower, eternal torment.

We also strolled through the St.-Guilhem cloister, originally from Montpellier, France.  Most of the column capitals here were adapted from Roman prototypes, and feature foliate motifs recalling acanthus leaf Corinthian capitals. However, a few of the capitals are representational narratives, such as the sculpture above.  My daughter, enrolled in an MBA program, is enduring job interviews for summer positions, so we nick-named this capital "Recruiting Season."

 Unicorn in captivity. 

Perhaps the best-known treasure of The Cloisters is the Unicorn tapestry series, late medieval (1495-1505) masterpieces whose colors still glow and enchant.

After I posted this entry, it was brought to my attention that replicas of some of the chess pieces are available from the shop of the National Museum of Scotland, http://shop.nms.ac.uk/categories/Gifts/Lewis-Chessmen/Replica-Pieces/ and from a retailer in Bath, England, http://www.regencychess.co.uk/