Sunday, July 21

Tsutsugaki, the Japanese Indigo Textiles, an exhibition hosted by The Guimet Museum of Asian Arts.

To summarize, let's say the technique of Tsutsugaki is roughly like the Batik Technique. On a stripe of cotton cloth (even wide fabrics are assembled from narrower stripes) some rice dough glue is applied with a conic shape tube tool (the Tsutsu). The artist uses the glue like a pencil on a sheet of paper. Literally, the glue becomes his pencil and he can draw the motifs (the Gaki) that he imagines.

The second step is to dive the fabric into an indigo dye bath. For the last operation, the artist removes all traces of glue, allowing the motif to appear where the dye didn't reach the fabric.

Consequently, this exhibition offers a large range of indigo pieces. Some are deep blue, other are light blue, depending on the age and the wear of the object. The more recent displayed pieces date from the late 19th or the beginning of the 20th century. The oldest pieces date from the 16th and the 17th century.

Usually, the Japanese offer the Tsutsugaki pieces for happy events: weddings, births, special occasions, because some benefic power is attributed to them. The technique of Tsutsugaki decorates kimonos, bedcovers, banners or screens.

The most common motifs are: kitchen utensils, the Mont Fuji, the Mont Horai. Symbols of luck and longevity habitually originate from popular legends, fables and mythologies.

The Guimet Museum has spacious and modern facilities, a rare building with the comfort of air conditioned.

A real treat during those days of heat.

A display of Tsutsugaki pieces

The Parade of Floats of the Tour de France (the Great Cycling Race of France)

The last Sunday afternoon once again, the Champs-Élysés boulevard was jammed, this time with the important event of the finish line of the race. The racers were supposed to arrive in the evening for a big illuminated bash.

I didn’t intent to wait that long, even if there was a lot of entertainment, in the hope to make the crowd wait until the winners arrive.

On my way back home, by pure luck, I finally see what I was truly interested in: the Parade of Floats. This parade usually includes major business corporations. Their floats are full of life, funny and genuinely entertaining. For instance, there are giant sausages, giant cakes, a float covered by typical Parisian baguette breads, huge tires bigger than a real size car, giant cell phones, real size faked racing horses, simulating a race... From float to float, one can admire the same bunch of pretty misses dancing and seducing the crowd, the same animators crying out in megaphones slogans. : “the best steaks in the world are the “x” steaks”, “Here, here, the yummy yummy cakes”, “The “y” wristwatches brand is the best”...

This is tradition for the parade of floats to follow the Tour de France’s cycling racers and to throw little promotional gifts toward the crowd.

People come to admire the athletes but also for the promotional gifts.

Sadly, in Paris, there weren’t little flying-in-the-air gifts. The gift stocks must have been back order. Maybe this is why the crowd’s entertainers didn’t succeed to inspire applauses.

It’s difficult to make people excited in Paris.

The Parade of Floats

Going to the Beach in Downtown Paris (Paris plage)

For the Parisians whom can't afford to go to the beach in vacation, the city's administration organizes the event Paris plage. The Seine's banks are arranged to give the illusion of being on the sea shore.

Imagine the picture : golden sand, long chairs, water fountains, fairground rides, games, ice cream, dancing areas, spectacles, pretty girls in tiny bikinis taking sun baths, young families and the kids playing at building sand castles...

Well, this is the sea.

Without the sea...

Paris plage

I live in the 4th borough of Paris, named Le Marais (the Marsh), right in front of the Pont Marie (the Mary Bridge) which links me to Île-Saint-Louis (St-Louis Island).

For the most part, in the 4th borough the buildings are ancient and magnificent. Plenty of charming courtyards, narrow winding streets baptised with names like: la rue du Grenier-sur-l'eau (the street of the attic with the river view), la rue du Vieux-Temple (the street of the old temple), la rue des Blancs-Manteaux (the street of the white coats), la rue des Mauvais-Garçons (the street of the bad boys) I think it is preferable to avoid the latter...

Last night, we were shaken by a violent rain storm, worthy of Dante's Inferno.

With no refreshing result, the dog days still stay and make us sweat profusely.

The Pont Marie

 Monday, July 21

The Museum of Natural History, the Paleontology and Comparative Anatomy's Gallery

Every time I come to Paris I make a duty of going to visit the Museum of Natural History and my favorite attraction is the Paleontology's Gallery.

This building is glorious, illustrating the architecture of a former era. It was especially built for the 1900 Universal Exhibition of Paris. At the end of the 19th century, an architecture mixing exposed metal beams associated with the stone was avant-garde. The decor is inspired by Nature. Ferns multiply inside the building in a very decorative frieze.

When one penetrates in this gallery, one feels like if one was travelling back in time, exactly like in a Jules Verne novel.

At the beginning of the visit, all the dinosaur’s skeletons walk toward us, in giving the impression they are welcoming us. What an intense beauty this herd of beasts has!

In the gallery, there are over three floors a multitude of specimens of vertebrates and invertebrates; of terrestrial animals, aquatic and avian creatures.

Those objects are samples of still existing species and of long time disappeared species. They present themselves under the form of skeletons, mommies, animals preserved in formalin and fossil specimens.

Here you are, puzzled by the apparent no link between the paleontology and the embroidery. In fact, I draw many sketches of primitive form of life like: "cadonites", "sao hirsuta", "harlania" and "antedon pennatus". They are full of inspiration for me, for their shapes or even for their exotic names, as titles, one fine day, in my embroidered creations.

We will have other occasions to talk about this subject. In addition of the Museum of Natural History, there is a huge park with a zoo, large green houses, galleries of geology and mineralogy, the Gallery of Evolution. And the park can host perfect picnics.

The Gallery of Paleontology

Tuesday, July 23

First meeting up with an artisan of Paris: the picture framer Luc-Michel

For two years now, I've been preparing this travel, in particular by reading of Artisans et métiers d'art de Paris (The Artisans and the Crafters in Paris), edited by Gallimard, in 2007. On each page a specific handcraft is illustrated: mentioning a specific workshop, a specific art, an artist (or artisan) and a piece of art.

Every address is clearly indicated, even the nearest subway station. For instance, the book offers information about jewellers, custom shoemakers, costumers, clockmakers, puppet masters, mosaic cutters and setters, etc.

I've made an oath of visiting EVERY artisans, not only textile related creators like embroiderers, costumers, couture designers, feather seamstresses, glass blowers.


So, I begin by the nearest one from home, the picture framer Luc-Michel.

After the usual greetings, he right away answers that he’s in mourning!

At a certain point in the conversation I realize that his dog, Mof, is dead. He shows me many photos of his long time companion, a magnificent Dalmatian.

The dog was named after the acronym of Meilleur Ouvrier de France (The Best Artisan of France's award). Luc-Michel received this honor in 1997 in the Picture Framing category.

The man has been practicing his craft for 30 years now. He complains about the heavy financial charges. The clients are short of money and can't afford anymore beautiful handmade picture framings. The school of artisans doesn't provide an adequate formation for the young ones, to face the new challenges of the market. At the end of the month he barely has enough for a decent living.

In those circumstances, why does he persist in this line of work? Maybe because of a passion for his work still burning in his heart? “Not really”, he says. Only because he likes to create beautiful framings. And when his last hour will come, he wishes to pass away while finishing his last framing.

Luc-Michel, the picture framer

The layout, the photo research and the translation are made by Lucie Daigneault
All my life I have been in love with leaves.   Yes, of course, flowers are nice and certainly trees are great – really great because they produce beautiful leaves...  But for me, it is leaves.  Ah, yes, leaves.  Any leaves.  Spring leaves with that great spring green colour, wilting summer leaves and the colourful leaves of fall.  Dead leaves too.  The ones with chopped edges and holes and wrinkles black spots, spending their final days in a puddle of water about to freeze.  I love them all.

Taking a walk near leaves is not necessarily pleasant for my walking companions.  Frequent stops and bend downs make a block-long walk boringly slow for them.

Leaves are found in surprise places all over the house.  In drawers, books under tables, on the mantel piece, above the kitchen sink.

You are probably wondering what all this has to do with embroidery. Of course, embroidery is the common denominator here.  Bear with me, I am getting to that.

Early in my twenties I came across a piece of crewel needlework that included leaves.  I was overwhelmed with fascination and totally confused as to how the leaves were stitched.  Where did you start?  How did you get that wonderful shading?  How were the veins stitched?
One of my life journeys was established.  Find out how to do this and do it!

Not so easy, I found.  Every needlework shop and yarn shop on my path I asked about lessons for crewel embroidery. Nothing. This was in the late sixties and early seventies in Vancouver.  I knew I would find it eventually, if I kept at it!

My first finding was a book.  I had just joined the ‘Book of the Month Club.’
Lo, in the first catalogue there was Erica Wilson’s Embroidery Book.  I think I read every word and studied every picture, every illustration, every diagram over and over and over.
I had done the usual stitching as a child.  The kitten tea towels, the printed pillow cases.  But, crewel was different, not thread, but wool. Imagine! Where do you get this stuff?  Had no idea. At the time some American magazines had tempting mail order kits but none of them crewel.  I ordered them and diligently completed them. But I still wanted to do crewel leaves.

Life continued and got very busy but crewel embroidery was still near the top of the bucket list.
In the early eighties I moved to Winnipeg.  By then I had become an avid knitter and shortly after arriving I knew the location of every yarn shop in the city.  I continued to ask about crewel embroidery in these shops.  After all, ‘crewel’ meant wool, someone had to know something.
I found it in the ‘The Good Wool Shop’ on Corydon Avenue.  No, they did not
do crewel embroidery but THEY KNEW SOMEONE WHO DID!  My AHA! moment had come!

Marjorie Mitchell lived two blocks from The Good Wool Shop and she sometimes worked in the shop.  I finally met her and convinced her to teach me how to do crewel embroidery and in particular, leaves.  Marjorie, rather reluctantly, set up a class for six students; I was totally hooked.

This lead to the Winnipeg Embroiderer’s Guild and a whole new world of
embroidery.  I have not done crewel embroidery for a while – other forms of embroidery have taken my interest.  Presently, I am working at needlepainting – aged eyes and arthritis are making this a true challenge.

My best piece of crewel embroidery is shown here.


The stool was designed by a friend.  I have all the Appleton crewel wool colours.  I spread them out in the living room and selected colours to match the rug and furnishings.
In the centre of the stool is a sizable bump.  Not really visible, but it can be felt.  The history of the bump leads to the name of the stool – the Oliver stool.  Believe it or not, the stool has won three awards in spite of the bump. (Attached underneath the stool top is a plastic envelope with all the awards.)

If you want to know about how the bump came to be, you will have to go to my facebook page, ‘Letters to Jennifer From Maudie and Oliver’ by Sharon Gray.  You will find the picture of the stool and the story of The Oliver Stool.

I have been told it is a very good read.
Friday, July 12

The Indian Method of Framing Embroidery Projects

I go back to the embroidery school Zardosi for a 2 hour class on the framing of projects.. In truth it isn't really different from our usual way; i.e. first we ought to fix the top and the bottom of the piece with running stitches over the grosgrain ribbon and solidify it by stitching back with short back stitches.

The main difference resides in the chosen method used to apply tension to the fabric, here there are thin strings sewed directly through the left and the right sides. A narrow hem assures the fabric to not tear up when the needle and the thin strings pass through. An extra tension is provided by rolling up the strings on a mobile wooden dowel.

What we learn at Zardosi school isn't exactly the Indian way of framing. In India, the professional embroiderers frame the fabric with the Aari hook. Apparently the use of this tool assures a greater strength and avoids variations of tension on large projects.

In India, many embroiderers work at the same time on the same project and they directly sit down on the floor.

A team of professional Indian embroiderers working on a Sari Gown for a bride

The Best Craftsman of France

In this time of the year stands the competition of The Best Craftsman of France (Le meilleur ouvrier de France). This is a title of prestige which the artisans seek to obtain. The competition of The Best Craftsman of France exists in several traditional fields like Pastry Creating, Carpentry and... Embroidery.

This year the competition’s theme is India. Consequently some professional embroiderers come to consult Shika (the Zardosi School's owner) with the purpose to be enlightened about the Indian traditional motifs, the specific colors and the techniques used with.

Of course in India, the stitching is done with the Aari hook but for the French competition the jury seems to prefer embroideries made with the Tambour Work occidental hook (crochet de Lunéville) which is a genuine French tool (the shapes of the two hooks are slightly different).

With the French hook, the stitching is made on the reverse side of the fabric. On the contrary, with the Indian Aari hook the embroiderer always works on the right side of the project.

Once the piece is finished, one ought to be a very clever juror to identify which of the two hooks has been used, because the two resulting chain stitches appear to be identical.

Some former laureates of this prestigious title in the Hand Embroidery Category

Véronique Ernoul, 2011 laureate, White Work category

Véronique Ernoul, 2011 laureate, White Work, detail

Catherine Laurençon, 2011 laureate, Embroidery in Color category, theme: The City of the Future

Gardens of Embroidery

I travel toward the Orangerie du Château de Sceaux (The Orangery of the Castle of Sceaux) to assist at a concert of chamber music, in a lovely spectacle hall.

But my interest is attracted particularly by the guided tour of the gardens of the domain: gardens that are like embroidery!

The famous gardener of Louis XIV of France was André Le Nôtre, the same who created the great gardens of Versailles under the reign of the Sun King. Le Nôtre was also an architect of the Nature and a lover of details, leading him to design true embroideries with bushes of box and colored gravel as basic material.

Today, the project is to reintroduce those former Gardens of Embroidery on the immense Castle of Sceaux park. Bushes of box have been planted (a very resistant bush which doesn't need much care and grows at a low height) according to a design rich in curves and circumvolutions. Depending on the parterre zone, red, black or white gravel covers the soil. The final result composes an elaborated authentic embroidery pattern.

Three hundred years ago those elaborated gardens were planted at the front side of the castle. This way, the building overlooked the park. André Le Nôtre was a master in the art of playing with the water basins and the planted area in such a way that an illusion of immensity was given.

The year 2013 is the 400th birthday of André Le Nôtre and at this occasion, the Hauts-de-Seine region has decreed it The Year of Le Nôtre. At the Castle of Sceaux they celebrate by the project of restoring the grandeur of the past.

Example of Garden of Embroidery in the Castle of Sceaux park

Friday, July 19

I am coming back to Paris from a journey in the center of the country. I went to follow a Golden Work Course at La maison des Grenadières (we could translate this like: the house of the embroiderers of grenade patterns).

First I had to reach by train the little city of Clermont-Ferrand, then I transferred for the village of Noirétable (a cute name that could be translated like Black-barn village), a more than 8 hour travel, a rather long travel.

Every day La maison des Grenadières' director lady picks me up at my little hotel in Noirétable. We drive toward Cervières, no public transportation serving this hamlet. Cervières is a fortified village of 150 inhabitants, crowded with old tiny stone houses. The narrow streets allow only one car at a time.
The village of Cervières has a long history. The little village was crossed by the Roman Legions and many centuries after by crusaders. Today, the village seems stopped on the time line at the Middle Age period.

The landscapes of the region are breathtaking!

Railway in the Haut Forez region, near Noirétable

The 3 floor buildinfg of La maison des Grenadières is located in the middle of the village of Noirétable. Four welcoming ladies work there. During my apprenticeship, every day we have picnic lunches, we enjoy yummy local products.

Village of Cervières
La maison des Grenadières also hosts an historical museum about Gold Work Embroidery. Since 1886 the specialty of those craftswomen consists in stitching decorative grenades over policemen's uniforms and firefighter's uniforms. The stitched grenade represents an inflamed ammunition. The design dates from the reign of Napoléon I of France.

Redingote of the Academician, probably embroidered by the Grenadières
Over time, the professional embroiderers of Cervières and Noirétable stitched the motif hundreds of thousands of times. One can easily imagine the need for military uniforms during the two last World Wars.

This was an important business activity, providing a good salary to the stitchers. In 1960, more than 500 embroiderers were employed for this occupation. Every family had its own embroiderer.
Today, the Grenadières still adorn the Navy's uniforms, the Republican Guard's uniforms, the redingotes of the prestigious members of the Académie de la langue française. They also embroider for the Parisian Haute Couture designers.

Here too the delocalisation of handcraft production harms the local traditional embroidery trade. But thanks to the institution of La maison des Grenadières, the precious knowledge isn't lost and the training sessions, such one I follow, can transmit this knowledge.

As stitchers, dear readers, you might be interested in the kind of frame that the Grenadières use. This is a heavy and strong wood frame allowing to apply extra tension. Two very long screws are positioned on the left and the right sides. In the purpose of adding rigidity to the fabric, before embroidering, the textile is glued to some cheesecloth with simply a mixture of flour and water.
Undoubtedly an old tradition.

Finally, a short word about the village of Noirétable. At night, the municipality administration turns off the street lighting. The intense blackness allows restful sleeping nights and magnificent skies enlightened by myriads of stars. I am the only client in the little hotel. I awake at the sound of the birds' song. And I spend the rest of the day at embroidery. These are true vacations for me.

Marie-Renée Otis

The layout, the photo research and the translation are made by Lucie Daigneault

I was going to talk about my eight-year old laptop dying and the "fun" we had replacing it, but I decided I haven't talked about what I've been stitching for a long while.

In January, I started a cross-stitch over one thread project that I wanted to enter in the Members' Exhibit Viewers' Choice Award, but by the time February came, I wasn't even half finished. I had to put it aside as I had signed up for the Virtual Threads counted thread round robin and the Lavender Sparkle Butterfly cyber course taught by Alison Cole. I had to get my round robin piece ready for mailing by March 1st (made it the 10th) and I received the first piece right after I mailed mine. Luckily, I finished it and it will be mailed to the next stop next week. The Lavender Sparkle Butterfly is also going well and I'm on the third lesson. I want to finish this piece before the end of April so I can post a picture of my completed butterfly in my album on the group's site.

I signed up for the two free online courses offered by EAC; Crazy Quilting without the Patches and Wessex Embroidery. This weekend, I'm getting the supplies ready for these two classes and will start as soon as the butterfly is completed. I've already downloaded the instructions.

In between all of the above, I also managed to finish four Artist Trading Cards for the EAC exchange and designed and stitched a project for the EAC Beaded Jewellery Contest. I even managed to get them mailed before the deadline. And I finally finished the stitching on Carolyn Mitchell's Off the Beaten Path and am in the middle of framing them.

As I am a member of the American Needlepoint Guild (ANG) and the Embroiderers' Guild of America (EGA), I always look at the correspondence courses they have. I was really interested in the Zentangle course that EGA is offering and I signed up for that. It has a lot of blackwork information included in the course and I just couldn't pass it up. Luckily it doesn't start until June 2nd.

I will be making eight quilted bags for the bride, bridesmaids, mothers, auntie and grandmother for my son's wedding. After Seminar I will go fabric shopping so I have plenty of time to finish the bags. And I will be crocheting a shrug for my future daughter-in-law to wear on her big day. I'm presently looking for ivory yarn with sparkles and intend to look in Ottawa in my spare time. Thank heavens for internet search engines.

I have also been gathering together the items I'll need for my Seminar classes. I will be taking Tanja Berlin's Love Birds, Lynne Payette's Alexander Alligator and Naomi Smith's Quillwork Box Workshop. Pliers, stretcher bars, tacks, sewing kit, etc. is being collected and put into my rolling carry-on all ready for packing. I also have to take time out to purchase a new suitcase as our old one died after Seminar last year.

I hope you are enjoying your stitch projects as much as I am enjoying mine, so now that you've read this blog, get back to stitching!

Linda Brenner
Find out more at the Embroiderers' Association of Canada website.
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About EAC

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The Embroiderers' Association of Canada (EAC) is a national non-profit educational organization whose purpose is to have a fellowship of persons who enjoy needlework and wish to learn and share their knowledge; and thereby to work towards maintaining higher standards of design, colour and workmanship.

Our aim is to preserve traditional techniques and promote new challenges in the Art of Embroidery through education and networking.

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