Friday, July 19, 2024

Placemats in the Style of Venetian Carpet


Venetian Carpet was a type of warp-faced flat-woven carpet popular in the early nineteenth century into the early twentieth century.

Textile names are always tricky. Sometimes they truly do identify where the textile originated from - or where a canny merchant wanted his customers to believe they came from. Names change over time; spelling, translation, or pronunciation errors creep in. Florence Montgomery's book Textiles in America is the best resource if you're interested in American textiles between 1650 and 1750 and have a burning desire to know the difference between say, ducape and duroy.

Venetian carpeting most certainly did not come from Venice. We know it was woven in the United States because we have instructions for it in the pattern book of Silas Burton (1775 - 1827) a weaver who lived and worked in Connecticut. The earliest draft (pattern, or recipe for weaving) in his book is dated 1793. 

Burton refers to his carpets variously as "striped carpeting," "rainbow carpeting," and "shaded striped carpeting," but in at least one instance he does refer to a carpet as "of the Venetian figure."

In all cases, as his drafts make clear, these carpets are composed of stripes. In many cases the stripes include shaded hues, often of red or green. Many of them also featured a "picket fence" effect, achieved by alternating single warp threads in two colors - black and yellow being a very common combination.

In 1804, Andrew S. Norwood was selling Venetian carpeting in his New York City store in full yard widths ("4-4") as well as a 27" width ("3-4" or three quarters of yard) that was suitable for stairs. Stair carpeting seems to have been a common use of Venetian carpet. Lengths could also be sewn together to provide a room-sized rug.

The Evening Post, New York, New York, December 17, 1804, p. 2

During the dreary grey days of late winter I decided that I was getting tired of my placemats, some of which are easily 15 years old, and that it would be cheering to weave some replacements, and also that it would be fun to weave these in the style of Venetian carpets.

However, what with one thing and another, it was the end of May before I was finally ready to dress the loom.
The 13 1/2" wide warp, carefully controlled by the cross and the lease sticks, ready for drawing in.

Each of the 812 ends (threads) is drawn through the correct heddle eye using a special hook.

All drawn in!

The ribbed effect is achieved by using a main weft (crosswise threads) that is eight times thicker than the warp. To reduce bulk at the hems, the ends of each placemat are woven with yarn that's the same thickness as the warp.

I use a loom that probably dates to the early 19th century. Missing parts - the lighter colored wood - were replaced with oak that was originally intended for a wooden boat keel.

Because these early looms are so massive, their weight does the hard work of beating in the weft so the weaver doesn't have to work as hard.

The end is near!

I finished weaving last week and started hemming placemats this week. I used two different colors for the main warp - green, or white. At first I thought I preferred the green warp, but I like the way the white warp forms a sort of picot effect along the sides.

At any rate, I can confirm that having one's boiled egg, toast, and tea in the morning is much cheerier now.

Finally, I have a theory about the "Venetian" moniker. Stripes of bright colors is a pretty good description of venetian glass, particularly of the canes that are cut to make beads.

Philadelphia Inquirer, Philadelphia Pennsylvania, May 31, 1823, p. 2

Venetian glass beads from bead paradise web site

Friday, March 22, 2024

Slow Gardening


I am pleased to report that the flowering red currant bush I grew from seed has bloomed for the first time.

I've always grown most of my plants from seed. This isn't such a big deal with vegetables and most flowers, but shrubs, vines, and trees are a different kettle of fish. Some seeds need at least one cycle of freezing and warming weather, and the instructions I've read for some seeds advise that stragglers may take ten years to emerge.

From the plant's perspective, this is sort of a brilliant wait-and-see strategy. A long-lived plant has to assure it will take root in an environment that will allow it to reach maturity and reproduce. Having the seed test out the environment is an energy-efficient way for the plant to determine if it will thrive.

Once the seed has found that moisture and temperature will meet the plants needs, it germinates and the young plant typically grows like crazy, putting out enough growth to keep it from being easily washed away in a heavy rain or eaten.

My flowering red currant bush, which is native to this part of the world, took five years to bloom. I may have lost a year due a couple of unexpected transplantings, but on the whole, I'm very pleased.

And now that I have a seed-producing engine, I can let the bush and Nature set about to create more plants for me.

Saturday, February 24, 2024

Count to Ten, Count to Five


Spring housecleaning this year kicks off with dealing with the jars of coins that have been gathering dust on a shelf in my office. While the science fiction trope of "the before times" became a reality with the start of the pandemic, it wasn't necessarily the bright line we think we remember.

Sure, starting with the national lockdown we all stopped going to stores and leaving or taking pennies from the jar beside the cash register. But only a few weeks into the pandemic my local bank branch closed permanently, a decision I suspect had been made much earlier, as more and more people moved to electronic payments and online banking.

In truth, there hadn't been many deposits to the Blue Door Bank of Hard Money (not FDIC insured) in some years. I maintained four jars, for pennies, nickels, dimes, and quarters. For some reason my recollection was that the marvelous CoinStar machines didn't take pennies, so last week I spent some time one evening after dinner counting and wrapping pennies, an evocative activity for me. I recall helping my father wrap pennies. It was an absorbing task for a young child who had just learned to count. Count ten pennies and place them in a neat stack. Count five stacks of pennies. Very satisfying.

When I noticed them, I pulled out the Canadian pennies. I'll toss those into streams that look like they might have spirits in them who could use an offering.  Maybe I'll toss one into the Pacific Ocean.* Dream big.

*I used to pour a little wine into the ocean, but wine now gives me headaches, so a penny now and again will have to do.

Saturday, February 10, 2024

A Marmalade Day


The first Marmalade Day of the year was last Wednesday. Seville or sour oranges, the best type to use for marmalade, are available for only about six weeks, starting in late December. Some years I can find them, some years I can't. In this part of the United States they aren't common.

If I'm able, I'll stock up. I simmer the oranges whole in plenty of water. Then I put on big apron, have a seat, and cut open the oranges, separating the insides from the peels and slicing the peels into shreds. It's a good job to do while listening to the opera or an audio book. Depending on how chapped one's hands are, it's a bit sting-y at first.

In Britain, where they take marmalade seriously, one could buy a special marmalade cutter. I make do with a sharp paring knife, but gosh, isn't the marmalade machine tempting?

Fellows & Bates Marmalade Cutter

I do have a Foley food mill (first picture,) which I use to separate the seeds from the pulp. Seeds, pulp, peel, and poaching liquid are then frozen in single batch sizes, allowing me to make marmalade throughout the year.

Marmalade simmering on the stove is a terrific antidote to a grey winter day, which is why I typically wait until February to make a batch. The house smells like orange Lifesavers and the additional moisture in the dry winter air is welcome.
I give away some to friends and keep a few jars for myself. 

It's remarkable how fast a person can get through a 12 ounce jar marmalade without even trying very hard.

Monday, January 22, 2024



Whatever you may call this, from Victor's perspective this is a cat toys automat. It's a little tricky to get to - you have to negotiate a swivel chair that may have stuff piled on it, but after that, the table underneath provides an excellent perch from which one may select something nice to pull off and play with. Or several somethings. And of course, the cat toy automat is open 24 hours if you absolutely positively need a new toy at 2 am.

Because of the way the house is laid out, it's just about impossible to keep Victor out of the sewing room. The best I can do is cat-proof it. So one day recently when it was far too cold to get outside to do a little gardening, I decided to put the cat toy automat out of business, at least for the next few years.
The toys are gone but their ghosts remain. In truth, many of the items on the board were only supposed to be there until I took the time to put them away in their proper places. Obviously, some items had been there several years without my taking the time to deal with them. 

The ribbons have gone into the plastic tubs where ribbons belongs. Likewise beads, needles, insect pins, bits of lace, patches, embroidery, quilting, and knitting samples all have their places. The feathers don't fit into the box in which I currently store millinery supplies, so I'm still puzzling out that one.

It's still January, but I notice that the streetlights don't come on until a few minutes after 5 pm.
Victor and a rain boot cat toy

Tuesday, January 16, 2024

A January Task

Is there a more January task than carding buttons one has cut off of worn-out clothing so that they can be re-used? If I didn't sew some of my own clothes, and if I didn't hate shopping for buttons, and if the outside temperature today wasn't well below freezing, I'm not sure I'd bother. The only way I've found to keep track of these salvaged buttons is to sew them onto small rectangles of cardboard, cut from tablet backs that I keep for the purpose. 

You can never have too many sets of white buttons. I think these came from a much-loved LL Bean shirt. Their clothes typically have nice buttons and I like the pie-crust edging on these.


Tuesday, December 19, 2023

The Well-Dressed Santa, 1920s edition


Do you lie awake at night, wondering what Santa wore in the 1920s? I have the answer! See the full posting on Unsung Sewing Patterns.

Merry Christmas, everybody. I'll be hibernating until the New Year.