Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Remember Belgium

This past weekend, my friend Julia and I went to a local historical site, the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum.  For my readers outside of America, Herbert Hoover was the 31st president of the United States.  He began his career as a mining engineer, then organized humanitarian efforts before becoming the Secretary of Commerce.  He served only one term as president before being voted out, and he has had a less-than-stellar reputation due to the Great Depression starting in his first year of office.  However, he was the only president to be born in the state of Iowa, so his museum is a popular destination for elementary school field trips.

You might be wondering why I would devote space on my blog to this attraction, and the answer is because they are preserving a fascinating chapter in needlework history.

During World War I, the country of Belgium was disproportionately affected by German submarine blockades.  They had previously relied on importing food, and they did not have enough land to grow the amount of food necessary to support their population.  Hoover became the chair of the Commission for Relief in Belgium, which organized food and monetary donations for Belgium during the war.

I don't know why I thought they had a real ship.  It was a parade float.
A large portion of the food relief came in the form of 50-pound flour sacks.  CRB organizers were concerned that the empty flour sacks could fall into the wrong hands.  There was a risk that people would fill them with inferior flour for reselling.  If the Germans got them, they could use the cotton for manufacturing ammunition.

To reduce these possibilities, organizers carefully kept track of the flour sacks, then sent the empty ones to professional schools where women were learning to sew and embroider as a trade.  Some women embellished the company logos on the bags, while others stitched elaborate messages of thanks to their American benefactors.  These embroidered flour sacks were used to raise money for the relief effort, and Hoover received many as gifts.  Today, the museum has a large collection of these flour sacks.  They have about five on display at any given time, rotating them out every several weeks.

The museum also has a display of Belgian lace.  The CRB worked to preserve this centuries-old industry by creating job opportunities for 20,000 female lace-makers.  Hoover's wife, Lou, used her connections to find buyers for the lace.

Bobbin lace
The exhibit is a reminder of the power that handmade objects held.  For every world-changing event, women were there to comment with their needles and thread.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Pretty Little Syndey

I am lucky to have really awesome in-laws.  My husband's parents love me like I am their own child, and they have been a big source of support to me.  They celebrated their 40th anniversary last summer, and I wanted to give them something special.  It was around that time that I discovered Satsuma Street Designs, a cross-stitch pattern company, and knew that one of their patterns would make the perfect gift.

Jody Rice, the designer behind Satsuma Street, likes to create patterns that combine retro shapes with bright colors.  She is becoming well known for her line of Pretty Little City patterns, which depict recognizable landmarks in cities around the world.

My in-laws are world travelers, and their house is filled with unique items from their travels.  There's the batik painting of Shabbat candles my mother-in-law made during a class in Indonesia, and a kiddush cup they had custom made when they went to Iran before the revolution.  They are social workers by day, but my father-in-law runs a boutique travel agency as a hobby business.  Last year, they lead a group trip to Australia and New Zealand, so I figured that they would enjoy a cross-stitched cityscape of Sydney.

Working on this made me realize just how little I actually know about Sydney aside from the Opera House, so I would look up the buildings as I went.  (Now the Pretty Little Sydney patterns come with a key for identifying landmarks.)  Still, the picture is fun to look at even if you aren't familiar with the city.  I like the bright palette of blues, greens, yellows, and oranges.  It was simple enough to be beginner friendly, but has enough detail to make it distinct.  My friends especially love the little surfer made of only a few stitches.  I just put it in a hoop for the picture.  I'll need to get it framed, and hopefully the lines of the buildings won't go wonky in the final version.

The other patrons of Home Ec's Saturday breakfasts were surprised over why I was making this.  When I told one woman it was for my in-laws, her eyes grew wide.  "Wow.  You must REALLY like them."  Yes, I do!  I didn't exactly complete it in time for my in-laws' 40th anniversary.  (It still counts if it is one month before their 41st, right?)  Luckily, they loved the picture I sent them and are willing to wait a bit longer so I can enter it in the State Fair.  I could probably spend the next several anniversaries giving them stitched versions of places they've visited; however, as a Chicago native I think I need to work on the Pretty Little version of that city next!

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

I Can Haz Grumpy Cat

For a silent auction at my synagogue, I donated the opportunity for me to embroider the winner's favorite quote.  A very nice woman won that item, and explained that she wanted a piece of art that was inspired by her favorite refrigerator magnet.  An embarrassingly long amount of time later, I have finished her piece.  Behold . . . the cutest angry cat you will ever see!

I worked on this during Saturday mornings at Home Ec.  He quickly became a favorite among my friends, especially after I filled in the eyes with satin stitch.  The woman wanted the cat to have calico coloring like her own pet.  I'm not a cat person, so I had to look at a lot of Google images to get something resembling the real thing.  Like the lion on the Torah mantle, I used seed stitch to fill in the color patches.  It's less tedious than using satin stitch, and I like the way it is suggestive of fur without looking photo-real.  That's what I like about embroidery as a medium--using a variety of stitches to create images that are suggestive of real images, yet with a more interpretive and artistic style.

Last Friday, I went to Home Ec and framed the piece in a hoop.  They had a pretty purple flower ribbon that I used to decorate the hoop.

The woman gave me a big hug and told me she loved it, but my favorite reaction was that of my husband's:  "It makes me want to hug and pet the cat until he stops being angry."