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Sunday, March 12, 2017

Time Warp: Crewel Embroidery and The Needle Arts

For the past few years, I've had a yearning to re-engage with crewel embroidery. Crewel work involves embroidering with woolen "thread" or "yarn," otherwise called "fibers."

Interestingly enough, crewel embroidery was extremely popular in the U.S. in the 1970s (and the 1980s)--in fact, it was a white-hot fad. Family Circle, Women's DayLadies' Home Journal, and Good Housekeeping  all vied to provide soup-to-nuts instruction for beginners and offer lovely designs as well. And  I can tell you that it was not just for older ladies, not at all! Women and girls of all ages were doing it.

At that time, my town had several stores that carried crewel embroidery materials and other embroidery necessities.  I know it may be hard to imagine today, but cross-stitch embroidery was not at all popular the way it has been since the early 1990s, except as one of many styles of stitchery in historic sampler embroidery. It was a very different time. I imagine working women today love the simplicity and relaxation of picking up a cross-stitch project for the evenings and weekends without having to worry about mastering numerous complicated embroidery stitches. I completely understand that, because as soon as I was working full-time, embroidery went out the window! During those years I was only into very simple patchwork quilting and knitting.

As a young woman in her very late teens and early twenties, I was fascinated by the challenges of embroidery and crewel work; and most of all, I was astonished by how beautifully lush the inter-weavings of multi-colored embroidery wools and polished cotton threads were when created into a landscape or a flowery still-life. I grabbed the women's magazines and crafted samplers and designs all over. At that time, it was a relief from the mindless jobs I had during the summers as an undergrad. Cross-stitch has never grabbed me personally, although I have lots of friends and relatives who craft beautiful projects in cross-stitch and counted cross-stitch.

For me, I have never forgotten how beautiful and personally satisfying crewel embroidery is, and it seems that now might be a time to explore it and perhaps re-engage.

When I went searching for books and websites and materials, I discovered that in the U.S. there are very few stores that carry anything at all in the way of crewel embroidery materials, or any that are willing to order from British suppliers. As far as I can tell, very, very few books have been published about crewel embroidery and needlepoint and embroidery since 2000-2004 in the U.S.

Crewel embroidery is much bigger in the UK (and I believe it's also bigger in Australia than the U.S.), although I imagine it may not be as popular in both the UK and Australia as it once was. Tapestry embroidery is possible to pursue in the UK, which sounds fascinating to me, although difficult to pursue here without importing everything you need. And, as Josephine, one of Margaret Drabble's characters in Dark Flood Rises comments, tapestry wool (and crewel wool) have become extremely expensive.) Ridiculously so, really.

I have discovered that some libraries have hung on to their old books on embroidery, needlework, and crewel work. I'm so grateful for that. Ebay and Etsy have old kits and books available. I purchased a wonderful crewel kit on Etsy--it's a kit from the 1970s, in beautiful condition, produced by Avon Products. So reasonably priced--I'm lucky indeed.

Do you engage in needlework of some sort? Please discuss it, and please let us know of the state of needlework in your country or your neck of the U.S.

Friday, March 10, 2017

Just a briefie: A Great Book and Weather Notes

A very peculiar weather situation for this second weekend in March. Yes, it's a "polar vortex," according to meteorologists. Or, as Ken would say, "According to the guys with the ouija boards."
We'll be going to two degrees below zero Fahrenheit tonight, and even colder tomorrow night.
Saturday we'll have a high temp of 10 degrees F with a wind-chill temperature of minus 21 degrees below zero F, due to the high winds. To go out, which I'd really like to do because I'm enamored of wintry extremes, I will need to vamoose out to our downhill trails quickly, where we'll be surrounded by hills that block the winds from the northwest. Sasha usually wants to cop out quickly in such weather, so I may not bring her with me. I'll do something of the ten-minute variety with her.

Margaret Drabble's Dark Flood Rises is incredibly good. (Gee, even I am beginning to speak like our dear Donald.) A brilliant combination of her sardonic wit, mingled with serious probings of the very mature adult situation, with a touch of her ribald tongue-in-cheek. I find myself reading along, hanging on every word, and then out of nowhere I'm laughing hysterically, because the situations of her characters and their responses to them are all so true. My shrieking then wakes up the dog so that she lifts her head, and gives me her "You're bothering me terribly" expression.

I had a wonderful trip to Crandall Library today. I hadn't been to "the city" for over six weeks, so it was a lovely treat to feed all my current fascinations.  Yikes! Dinner is up. I do hope that I can continue this thread tomorrow



Sunday, March 5, 2017

Back on the Reading Train: Larsson, Godden, Drabble

I wasn't able to do any real book reading for about 5-6 days, other than magazines and the New York Times. But I'm back now, thank goodness.

As I searched all the bookcases and bookshelves throughout the entire house, the only book that demanded to be picked up was Stieg Larsson's The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest, the third book in the trilogy. Because it was about eight years ago that I read the second book, The Girl Who Played with Fire, I decided it would be helpful to read a synopsis of that one before conquering the third, just to get the characters and storyline straight. Wikipedia had a fine synopsis available, so I'm all set reading the third chapter of Hornet's Nest. It's a very hefty read, at about 537 pages, and I've got Margaret Drabble's latest to read, which must be returned on the 16th of March. So it looks as though I'll need to devote time to both.

But not all day! There was something about reading all day long that made me feel as though I didn't have a life. And that's really very, very strange, because it has never bothered me before when I've had personal read-on-and-on-and-on-athons. I'm wondering just perhaps if the aura of Barbara Pym's characters in Quartet in Autumn have been casting a spell upon me? I do think so. And yes, the review for this book is coming. I've been working on it, but am finding it hard to do it justice.

Today I was able to purchase another of my Classics Club books for a mere $2.99. It's Greengage Summer by the English novelist Rumer Godden. I hope to get going on this one soon as well. My original intention for the Classics Club was to buy paperback or hardcover copies of all my classic books read, but this Nook Edition was such a good price, I have made an exception.





Wednesday, March 1, 2017

February's Eight Reads, Barbara Pym, and On the Reading Horizon

I managed to read eight books in February, which I think is a record for me, though I'm not proud or happy about it, all because the stupid influenza visited us this year and is wholly responsible for the number of books read. Geez. What a way to ruin a nice wintry month.

The Betrayal by Helen Dunmore was the best book by far, Appelfeld's The Man Who Never Stopped Sleeping was equally stellar and will be forever memorable. Yaa Gyasi's Homegoing was another book that I would highly recommend and even might say should not be missed. (See the posts below for information about these books.)

Quartet in Autumn by Barbara Pym, which I read for The Classics Club, was both utterly fascinating and depressing, as well as being at times, extremely funny. It deserves its own post, which is forthcoming.

On the 27th of February, in utter desperation, I declared a reading moratorium.
I allowed the reading of magazines and the New York Times (Aw, shucks--Sorry, Donald!) and other online websites.
And now, on the evening of March 1st, I finally have a number of books lined up that I'm looking forward to tackling.

Barbara Pym does not seem to have had a biography written about her, I've found. (See below for my error, here.) Yet excerpts from her journals and letters were collected in a volume in the early 1980s, several years after her untimely death. After reading Quartet in Autumn, I'm extremely curious about Barbara Pym's life and her thoughts in general, so I'm waiting for the arrival of the out-of-print A Very Private Eye. And, wouldn't you know it, I've come across a biography this evening, although not available in any library here. It's Hazel Holt's A Lot to Ask: A Life of Barbara Pym (1990).

Margaret Drabble has a new novel. As some of you know, I am partial to her writing. Dark Flood Rises, published in the U.S. just this past month, is about a social worker, aged 76, whose job it is to drive all over England visiting residences for elderly people and analyze them for a huge report she is compiling. The conflict, naturally enough, is that the social worker is approximating and equal to the age of the residents. I'm dying to read this, knowing Drabble's  sharp,  devilish wit. Can't wait. I still have numerous novels of Drabble's  which I haven't read.  Need to get kicking.

Ali Smith is a Scottish writer whom I have never read. The first book in her new series of four novels has just been published here. Autumn is the title. She plans to write a novel for all four seasons. As one might expect, Autumn does include characters who are in the "autumn" of their lives. I have the chance to pick this one up and will let you know. Have you read Ali Smith?