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Book Review: Manuale del Puncetto Colorato

Posted by Avital Pinnick on May 29, 2011

Puncetto Colorato

Book review: Paola Scarrone, Angela Stefanutto, Manuale del Puncetto Colorato (Società Operaia di Mutuo Soccorso di Varallo, 2006), 72 pages. €23, available from Italian Needlecrafts.

Puncetto Valsesiano  needle lace is currently enjoying a revival. Its simplicity of construction — a single knot, created with a needle and thread — and its elegant designs have contributed to its popularity. The familiar all-white Puncetto is characteristic of the Valsesia region, located in Piedmont, northern Italy, near the borders of France and Switzerland.

Its lesser-known variation, coloured puncetto, is primarily from the Mastallone valley, an area north of the Valsesia river. Coloured Puncetto is a prominent feature of women’s costumes of Sabbia, Cravagliana, Fobello, Cervatto, and Rimella. A panel of needle lace runs vertically down the center of  the bodice and the stylized apron. On either side of the lace panel, the fabric is gathered with smocking worked in the same pattern and colours as the lace. Sometimes narrow embroidered floral designs are worked beside the lace panel.

Puncetto Colorato

According to the authors of this book, different colours were used for different occasions, such as work, wedding, baptism, mourning. Red is suitable for young women and for weddings, blue for older women, blue and purple for half-mourning, and black for full mourning. In the past, coloured puncetto was worked with silk threads, but silk has largely been replaced by perle cotton, which is more readily available.

Puncetto Colorato

This book builds on the basic tutorials and motifs provided in A Scuola di Puncetto Valsesiano although, interestingly, it was published three years before Scuola. Its format and diagrams are very similar. Most coloured puncetto designs are based on the stelle miste (mixed “star” or square) design, characterized by the corners being worked horizontally and the center, diagonally.

The book is written in Italian. Because it relies on the information provided in Scuola, I recommend that you use both books together. The diagrams are very clear, but you will need a good understanding of the structure of the motifs in order to follow the graphs.

The book is organized into two parts. The first part provides step-by-step diagrams of motifs (as in the photo above, with the four women), while the second half provides only finished diagrams (see the photo above with the close-up of the embroidery). If you are comfortable with the techniques described in the first book, you should have no difficulty following the patterns in the second book. The binding seems to be of better quality than Scuola; I haven’t had any problems with the cover coming loose. The photos are extremely sharp, which makes it easy to count stitches and to duplicate designs whose patterns are not included.

I have a few tips to offer:

  1. The diagonally worked sections tend to stretch more than you would expect, so make sure that your diagonal spiders (ragni) are quite dainty. It’s generally good practice to make a loop a little smaller than you think it should be. A too-short loop can be stretched into shape but a too-long loop looks sloppy and is impossible to cover with stitches.
  2. Use an extra needle for coloured puncetto. It won’t eliminate the tedium of threading/unthreading needles for the contrasting spider centers but it will reduce some of the the threading because you can keep a needle threaded with the main colour of the spider.
  3. When you join a new thread, do not cut the ends of the threads close to the work until you are well past that area, especially if you need to work stitches into that area later (for example, joining corners of the center to the stitches around the edge). It is very frustrating to have a loop suddenly come undone because you cut the thread ends. Tightening a knot puts a lot of pressure on the loop into which you are working the stitch, and if the ends are cut short, they will slip out of place.
  4. After every row, hold the motif in the air and let the needle dangle free to untwist the thread. Because you are working hundreds of single knots, the thread will become more tightly twisted with each stitch.
  5. Try to keep the tail threaded through the needle fairly short (no more than about 6 inches) if you are using thread that tends to snarl. While you will have to pull more thread through each stitch, it will cut down on the knots caused by the tail thread getting caught in the main thread. Those tend to be the hardest (for me) to unpick.
  6. Keep a sharp pin handy to unpick knots if you make a mistake.
  7. If you’ve made a big mistake, cut the section off with sharp embroidery scissors. You don’t need to start all over again constructing a new base. The new joined thread is easily hidden by working stitches over it, so try to salvage as much of your work as possible.
  8. If you finish and you discover a mistake, see whether you can fix it by working more stitches with a needle and thread. Puncetto is so dense that a few stitches added to a row will never be noticed in the finished piece.

The photo below is a typical example of a stelle miste design with DMC Cordonnet 30 and a size 26 tapestry needle.

Puncetto Valsesiano

Here are a couple examples of coloured puncetto squares that I worked from the book with perle 8 cotton and a size 26 tapestry needle.

Coloured Puncetto

My First Coloured Puncetto Square

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Book Review: A Scuola di Puncetto Valsesiano

Posted by Avital Pinnick on March 24, 2011

A Sculoa di Puncetto Valsesiano

Carlo Rosetti, Paola Scarrone, and Angela Stefanutto, A Scuola di Puncetto Valsesiano (Società Operaia di Mutuo Soccorso, 2009). 112 pages. €30, available from www.italian-needlecrafts.com (excellent service! No affiliation, just a satisfied customer.)

Sample page:

A Sculoa di Puncetto Valsesiano

Puncetto Valsesiano, an Italian needle lace, has captivated many with its elegant, austere designs and apparent simplicity. The only materials required are a needle and thread. The lace is created entirely with a simple overhand knot, made by looping the thread around the needle. Unfortunately, there is very little information about Puncetto in English, apart from the Anchor Manual of Needlework and Gentle Arts.

You are probably wondering whether this book be used by someone who doesn’t read Italian. The answer is “Yes,” as long as you are comfortable with schematic diagrams (like the charts in Burda crochet magazines) and enjoy solving puzzles. These diagrams are comprehensible without knowing Italian (I’m currently working on a short glossary to translate terms found in this book, which may make some things easier). Each small red square represents a single stitch, 2 rows. The blue square represents 2 stitches, 4 rows, and so on. When you skip a single stitch, the small vertical red line may look like a knot, but it is actually a loop; you are skipping one loop or two knots.

An important point to keep in mind is that the diagrams are a graphical shorthand for describing the Puncetto motifs. They are not exact depictions, in the way that filet crochet or cross-stitch charts are. Because successive rows of stitches are offset, like bricks in a wall, they cannot be shown on a grid. I recommend that you practice the simpler motifs, such as blocks, spiders, etc., before you tackle the more advanced design because if you do not have a good grasp of the structure of the basic motif, you will run into trouble (usually too many or not enough stitches when you finish a row).

This book provides a rich variety of motifs and edgings, far more than I’ve seen in any other source. There are “stars” (“stars” are actually the small square motifs that form the basis for strips and doilies), corners, edgings, scallops, picots, circular motifs, triangles, diagonally worked corners, and doily centers — even leaves, much like the leaves of bobbin lace. The basic knot is briefly described with photos. In theory, a beginner could use this book and develop a large repertoire of motifs. The only materials required are a needle and cotton thread, usually size 30, but sometimes size 80-100 is used, with correspondingly fine needles.

The sample page above contains a fairly typical lesson, with a motif on the left side and a gorgeous finished piece on the right. Before you get too excited, you should know that this is not a pattern book. For example, the wide edging with corner on the right page is not accompanied by an actual pattern. However, if the pattern is not too complicated, you should be able to duplicate it if you master the basic motifs. That’s the beauty of Puncetto — once you’ve mastered the basics, it’s fairly easy to copy patterns from photographs. The photos of Puncetto that appear on dark blue backgrounds (left page in the photo above) are the only ones accompanied by instructions.

I made one of the motifs, #12, “Ragni piccoli uniti,” and found the chart to be accurate. DMC Cebelia 30 with a size 26 tapestry needle worked very well.

I do have a few quibbles about this book. First, there are no page numbers. The numbers beside the titles refer to sections, usually dedicated to a type of motif. I often had trouble remembering where to find things in the book. It also means that the book cannot be indexed. There is a table of contents at the end of the book but the numbers refer to sections, not pages. If you need to refer to a motif, you will have to use say something like “Section #38, 52-stitch square.”

Sometimes the coloured squares appear to be out of sync with the grid. The reason for this is that the grid of grey lines is based on two stitches; a single, small square is two stitches wide and two stitches high. Patterns based on three stitches look strange when superimposed on the grey grid (for example, the two large squares of #20, Stelle con rosette piccole ed autin), but the stitch count seems to be accurate. Each square or stella has a label indicating the size of the base you need to work (for example, Punti 46).

The quality of the book is generally very high. The paper is heavy, the colour reproduction is good, the diagrams are clear, and the photos are beautifully styled, lit, and sharp enough to count the stitches. The weakest part of the book is the binding. I handled my book fairly gently but the cover is starting to fall off. It’s not a deal-breaker because the signatures are sewn and the cover can be glued later if necessary, but one expects a soft-cover book of this price to keep its cover longer than a week. It’s probably best to photocopy a working copy of a pattern rather than leaving the book open. Despite these shortcomings, I highly recommend this book.

Broken Binding

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Review: “Sister” Diane Gilleland, Making a Great Blog

Posted by Avital Pinnick on February 7, 2010

Good books convey information. Great books engage you and spark a creative dialog in your mind.

Diane Gilleland’s ebook, Making a Great Blog: A Guide for Creative People, falls into the second category. Some of her ideas and questions will stick in your brain and bubble up at odd moments. For the first time I found myself asking”Well, what do I blog about anyway?” and was able to come up with some answers. If you’ve noticed some changes in this blog, it’s because of her book. I added a small photo of myself, a blogging statement, and a fledgling blogroll. I also started using my real name on my home page and Flickr account.

This is a the book I wish I’d read before I started blogging. If you’re thinking of starting a blog — not just a craft blog — do yourself a favour: buy this book and save yourself a lot of floundering and re-inventing the wheel.

Background

Diane’s blog, CraftyPod, and her podcasts have been on the craft scene for quite a while. Her first podcast came out in May 2005. Diane’s blog is a seemingly inexhaustible fount of interesting and well-edited content (does she ever take vacations like ordinary mortals? I’m not sure). If you’re not familiar with the story behind “Sister” Diane’s nickname, this article from the Sisterhood Project will fill you in.

The Book

In four chapters (Table of Contents), Diane covers questions to ask yourself before blogging (but if you’ve already plunged in, that’s okay!), what kind of content to put in your blog, how to have a great-looking blog, and how to interact with your readers and their comments.

Diane’s writing style is informal and chatty. She packs in a lot of information and offers tons of encouragement for new bloggers. I especially like her head-on approach to problems that bloggers run into eventually, like “blog fade” (or what to do when blogging just isn’t as fun as it used to be), taking a vacation, and writing posts that will appeal to your audience. One of her most useful tools is the old-fashioned notebook for recording bursts of inspiration. At this point, I should tell you that Diane’s mother, Pam (aka Gingerbread Snowflakes), has written an outstanding piece on organizing blog entries.

Diane has excellent advice about creating content: It’s not about you. It’s about them. Someone should create a printable PDF for us bloggers (seasoned and newbie alike)  to print out and tape to the wall beside the monitor.

Almost from the first posting I had readers commenting on my entries but I had no idea that it was okay to reply, until I read Diane’s section about forming a blogging community. So I swallowed my personal shyness and wrote to a stranger who had left a comment on my blog. I answered a couple of her questions and I complimented her on her blog and she actually replied! Now we’re following each other on Twitter — her tweets are going to give my French a workout.  Hurrah! Interacting with people who leave comments was the most important thing I learned from Diane’s book (and if you haven’t read the recent posting on Make & Meaning on this topic, Thanks for Visiting!, you should).

The information about creating eye-candy was less useful for me, but that’s only because I’m coming from a background in Photoshop and photography. If you want to improve your graphics and photos, her chapter on the improving the visual appeal of your blog offers a lot of useful tips. Pay special attention to the advice on light, backgrounds, and props.  (I would only add that if you want to tweak your photos and organize them, download Picasa. It’s free and has some very good editing tools.)

Do I have any quibbles? Maybe just about the importance of an eye-catching header. If I blogging for commercial purposes, I would definitely create a header because it’s a crucial aspect of branding. Vendors have to create a recognizable image and presence on the Web. But since so many people use Google Reader and RSS feed aggregators that don’t show the header or sidebars, I question its importance for personal bloggers. (That said, if one of you out there writes, “I’m tired of looking at this red bar at the top of your blog. Why don’t you get a decent header?,” I’m willing to reconsider!)

Making a Great Blog is colourful and well-organized, with a good layout and illustrations. It includes a resource list and worksheets.

Link to buy: http://shop.craftypod.com/great_blog

Cost: $12.50 (I think it’s good value for the money)

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Book Review: Melichson, Art of Paper Cutting

Posted by Avital Pinnick on November 9, 2009

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Henya Melichson, The Art of Paper Cutting (Quarry Books, 2009)


Henya Melichson brings years of art experience to her book on paper-cutting, recently published by Quarry Books. Her background in painting and drawing is evident in her detailed, almost three-dimensional, quality of her paper cuttings. In fact, she likens paper cutting to drawing with a knife.

Born in Tel Aviv in 1953, Melichson worked in oils, aquarelles, and sketching until 1984, when she turned almost exclusively to paper cutting. She is a member of the Guild of American Paper Cutters.

Her book begins with general instructions for paper cutting. The body of the book is an extensive  selection of paper cuttings that she has made over the years. They are stunning. Her style ranges from classical to folkloric to art deco, with many cuttings devoted to Jewish themes. These photos provide a sense of her intricate and versatile style. (Note: if you want to see higher resolution versions, click the photos to go to the Flickr page. Click “All sizes” to see a larger size.)

I think my favourite is this paper cutting of a woman in a window overlooking a garden (below). The alternating positive and negative borders around the window are striking and unusual. The woman’s face is rendered in a 3/4 pose, much more common in painting and drawing than in paper cutting.

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Jerusalem is a perennial favourite among Jewish paper cutters. Here, the feathers of the doves surrounding the city of Jerusalem are in the spiky style of Polish paper cutting. Melichson’s more  elaborate cuttings are often accompanied by details with notes.

In the lower right corner, she shows layers of bricks cut in positive. If you look at the buildings on the left page, you can see bricks in the negative. The juxtaposition of positive and negative creates different values of shadow, a subtle means of conveying depth in a flat medium.

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The heart with animals (below) is a common paper-cutting motif in Europe, especially Switzerland. The tip on the facing page is to draw the “hidden” animals before the foliage.

If you want to see an extraordinary use of positive/negative, see how the vines cross the cherubs’ bodies at the bottom of the composition.  It’s almost subliminal.

Now look at the top of the trunk of the heart-shaped tree. The positive and negative elements are so evenly balanced so that you can’t tell where the trunk ends and foliage begins.

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The book concludes with a section of templates for simpler projects.

In all fairness, I should point that this book will not teach you to make paper cuttings like hers. The templates are, however, suitable for a beginner. If you have never attempted paper cutting before, this is something to bear in mind before you rush out and buy the book. If you already have paper-cutting experience or are an ambitious beginner, keep reading.

Most of the patterns in the main part of the book could well have the following directions:

1. Fold paper in half.
2. Draw insanely intricate drawing.
3. Cut.

In all fairness, most of her paper cuttings are too large to allow the inclusion of templates in a small format book. She would have to put them on a CD. Besides, the goal of a good how-to book is to inspire you to branch out in your  own directions, not to copy the work of the master. Her patterns are not patterns in the conventional sense. The value of her book lies in where it takes you after you’ve mastered the basics.

The Art of Paper Cutting fills an important gap in the available books on the subject, most of which teach the craft at an extremely basic level. Stewart Walton’s Craft Workshop: Paper Cutting is a representative example. Walton provides templates for a range of projects that are generally not too difficult. After you have  mastered greeting cards, shelf edgings, and a few bookmarks, what’s next? There are almost no books for the intermediate level of this craft.

If you have some paper-cutting experience under your belt already, study Melichson’s treatment of hair, facial features, architectural details, and perspective.  Her background in painting and drawing distinguishes her paper cuttings from most other artists’ work.

This book reinforces a notion I have long suspected: If you want to take your paper-cutting skills to the next level, you have to develop your sketching and drafting skills. Cutting paper is not a difficult skill to master, provided you have adequate coordination, eyesight, and a supply of fresh blades. The real test of skill lies in designing a balanced and effective composition. Melichson’s short section on negative and positive design in paper cutting is one of the few discussions of the problem of portraying three-dimensions in this most uncompromisingly two-dimensional  of crafts. She succeeds in creating a world of perspective, light, and texture, with tiny holes in paper.

I will leave you with one tip: tracing templates is tedious and inaccurate. It’s much easier to photocopy or scan and print the template on white paper and staple it (through areas that will be cut out, obviously) to your cutting paper. The stapled areas must be cut  last to ensure that the layers do not slip.

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