by hand

by Andrea Elizabeth

The header for this blog is a cross-stitched representation of one of the Lady and the Unicorn tapestries.

The Lady and the Unicorn (French: La Dame à la licorne) is the modern title given to a series of six tapestries woven in Flanders from wool and silk, from designs (“cartoons”) drawn in Paris around 1500.[1]The set, on display in the Musée national du Moyen Âge (former Musée de Cluny) in Paris, is often considered one of the greatest works of art of the Middle Ages in Europe. (Wikipedia)”

I will have devoted the last half of my life to re-representing this tapestry if I finish the cross-stitched work that I ordered from Scarlet Quince Cross Stitch Patterns from Fine Art. I am a goal oriented person, and lots of details frustrate me. However, this tapestry is so engaging and beautiful, and has so many little figures in it, that it keeps me motivated and satisfied.

Hand-stitching it is also an act of protest. It’s not an Amish, Luddite, or Pharisaical protest against modernism, however. Like the cross-stitch pattern itself, this work is a tribute (Cue Tenatious D) to the life and times and work and greatness of the Middle Ages. It is not a great work in itself. If it were rule-based protest (hence the harsh word, Pharisaical), I would use bone needles and wouldn’t stoop to use a digitally imaged computer edited and translated and machine-printed pattern. My canvas wouldn’t have been made by an automated loom. I wouldn’t have a high tech craft light and machine made resin hoop. My reason for not employing authentic tools and methods is #1, I don’t think I need to reproduce their work. The original still exists, and probably will continue to do so because of modern high-tech methods of preservation and display. What I am making is an icon to the past, not a resurrection.

To me, man-made resurrections are like Frankenstein’s bride. Or it’s like Christopher Reeve’s attempt in Somewhere in Time to remove anything that would break the suspension of his disbelief in traveling back in time. It is full of anger and discontentment with the present, and idealization of the past. This is why people commit suicide. They demand to have heaven right now. But the present is a cross we have to bear. Hence another attraction of this craft – it’s 347,100 stitches of crosses. Icons help us remember the past and bring the people and their times into our present. Whatever bit of humanity we might have lost can be brought back.

The second reason for not employing their methods is because I do want heaven at the time of my natural death. I do not have the time or skill to do their heavenly work before I die. Some of the works of old, like the Cathedrals of the Middle Ages took more than one lifetime to complete. I can’t imagine being an architect or the imaginer of such a work and know that I’d never see it realized. I am willing to put myself in their shoes enough to understand long-term commitment and slow and steady progress though.

A third reason for not employing their methods is resources. To research and try to remanufacture their old tools would mean that I couldn’t just do this in my spare time. I’d have to prioritize it above the few other measly things I do. I do not feel I need to inconvenience others for this project. Hopefully my small, but time consuming efforts will benefit others in some way.

Now for the skill part. I am thankful that I was born and raised where letters were hand-written, phones had rotary dials, and maps, though printed, were on paper. You had to touch more than buttons to communicate and know where you were in relation to where you were going. These are human ways. How human the printing press is I’ll not explore right now. I bet there’s a good debate to be had though. To me, it is only through mastery of the hands-on ways (check out the Woodwright’s Shop. Roy Underhill wasn’t raised that way, btw, he reproduced the knowledge he has), that one is in the right frame of mind to use power equipment. It should always be with a sense of sadness that one uses them, however. And with a sense of prioritizing why one uses them. There’s a constant struggle for time vs. deprivation. Once a convenience is introduced, like medicine, it can seem like idolatry to the past to not use it. Should your family suffer because of such stubborness? But do they suffer for prioritizing ease? Lord help us.

All this ado to say that I’m glad I mastered counting and place keeping with the paper, eventually laminated, pattern I ordered. It was challenging to try to guess the symbols that went in the whited out areas that are illustrated below. And the print is kind of small.

You can see where I am after the last blue X.

Now that I’ve mastered the paper pattern, I’m sadly able to now switch to their newly available digitally interactive pattern available for smart phones and other screens. I’d gotten where I didn’t have to mark the individual stitches I’d completed, just the 10×10 squares. But with the new app, if I touch the stitch square it shows me where the next ones are in the 6 displayed squares. You can’t see the context as well, but that’s why I’ll also mark the 10×10 squares on my sheet. They say you can lose your place if your computer backs up anyway, so using both will keep me knowing where I am. This is already saving me time since I don’t have to keep counting as much. Below is shown the next square that I’m working on for comparison to the above pattern. I can make it as big as I want so it’s much easier on my eyes and saves time by not having to pick up my pattern to scrutinize it closer.

This project has about 50 rows of 10 stitch rows. I was averaging 1 of these rows a year, but have sped up some. I am willing to work on this till I’m 95, but either I, my eyes, or my hands may not make it. If I were a Middle Ages person I’d pass it on to the next generation, but nowadays things don’t seem to be continued on as linearly, I am too lazy to do it like them, and, I am too compulsive about wanting to see it before I die. May they pray for me and be with me while I pay tribute their better work.