Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Interview: lin v.

This is my first interview. Over the years, embroidery has brought me many wonderful friends. Lin is one. I can't remember exactly how we met. One of my first memories of her is of being Wowed! by a lecture she gave on how embroidery patterns traveled from one part of the world to others, very early in history. Later I took several ethnic embroidery classes with her.

Lin's moved away from Chicago but we've kept in touch by e-mail. In addition to sharing with me photos of her projects, a short while ago she sent me charts for her Latvian sampler designs. I decided to interview her and post it while I'm on vacation as a treat for everyone. The sampler charts will be a giveaway to be announced later this week.

Lin's words: I began my embroidery sojourn in Fort Collins, Colorado, in 1978 when I returned from having lived for 3 years in Freiburg, in the most beautiful part of Germany, the Black Forest. I still consider the Black Forest my home.

I started with cross stitch, in a class in a newly opened store called “Points and Particulars.” That was it for me. I took every class they offered--needlepoint, tatting, pulled thread and other techniques. At that time I joined some embroidery groups--EGA, of course, and one called “Friends of Counted Embroidery,” a very large group of eventually 175 members from 4 cities in the Denver metropolitan area. I learned everything I could there, took classes and workshops and then began studying other techniques from books that became available from mail order used book dealers specializing in textiles. In about 1980, I started teaching.
In 1983, my husband got his Ph.D. and we left Colorado, first for Hershey, Pennsylvania (we stayed only 4 months during which time I studied the Amish and read every book in the little public library in Hershey) and then for Chicago where we lived from 1984 to 1990.

Chicago was a goldmine for embroidery research. I went once a week for 2 years to the Art Institute of Chicago Textile Dept. (and twice to the Oriental Dept. to see Turkish towels) and graphed virtually every counted thread textile there. I published some of my findings in Fancywork, Counted Thread Society of America and Creative Needle magazines. From AIC, I was able to examine embroideries from countries as diverse as Mexico, Italy, Spain, England and even 13th century Egypt.

The Chicago metropolitan area is replete with ethnic communities and there I was able to visit museums and individuals from many more countries—Poland, Lithuania, the then Czechoslovakia, Romania and Ukraine, not to mention the excellent collection of North American Indian clothing at the Field Museum of Natural History. I was allowed to study weekly, also for 2 years, with an expert in Ukrainian embroidery, and to be exposed to their rich tradition of close to 100 different counted thread stitches and regional styles. During that time, besides writing for Creative Needle, I taught at many EGA chapters in the area as well as at the Balzekas Museum of Lithuanian Culture and to children aged 4-6 at a regional Montessori School.

Additionally, I journeyed from Chicago to surrounding states to study at museums there, such as at the Norwegian-American Museum in Decorah, Iowa. The Cleveland Museum of Art has an excellent collection of Greek Island pattern-darned embroideries that I graphed. While there, I showed a women’s museum auxiliary group one of my many slide shows on ethnic embroideries as I had done to many groups previously.

In 1990 we moved east and I was able to study more Greek Island embroideries in the library of the Textile Museum in Washington, D.C. I also lectured at the World Bank, studied Palestinian embroidered dresses and scarves (each 2 meters in length!) and participated in a fundraising campaign for victims of a large earthquake in Egypt. To raise money, I created a set of 4 kits of bookmarks, each of a different Mamluk Egyptian (13-14th century) design and each with a different finishing technique.

In 2006 we were forced to leave the U.S. under George Bush. It was unacceptable to him that any Muslim should hold a security clearance in the federal government and so my husband’s career (and that of many others) came to a sudden end and America lost its foremost scientific authority on aviation security and non-intrusive detection of explosives. We moved to Egypt, my husband’s birthplace, and have been here ever since.

I was fortunate to have been able to travel a lot during my lifetime. My grandmother advised me while still a child not to wait to travel (she herself was Scottish), but to do so while young. And this is what I did. How did it influence my interest in embroidery? It opened my eyes to other cultures and to a realization that no one country “has it all” or is better than any other. All taken together, the world is a beautiful place.

Regarding languages, I began with French in eighth grade, added Spanish in eleventh, skipped a year and continued with both languages in college. Moving to Germany brought German into my life, trips to Italy brought Italian and now living in Egypt, I can get by somewhat in Arabic.

While living and attending college in Freiburg, Germany, I had my first encounter with serious learning. My field at the University of Colorado had been Medieval History and this I continued studying in Germany. Seeing the actual medieval cloisters, churches and other historical sites made history come alive for me; history has been a lifelong passion since I can’t remember when. The strenuous studies in Germany taught me how to research, a skill that became indispensable later when working with textiles in various museums. It also gave me the necessary background to be able to follow the development and transferal of stitches and techniques from one country to another.

Your question regarding what other things I’ve done would take a week to answer. In short, learning and studying is an integral part of my life and wherever I am, I seek out an opportunity to learn, whether it be gardening at major arboreta and public gardens (I hold 2 Certificates of Merit in Ornamental Horticulture from Longwood Gardens in Kennett Square, Pennsylvania) or Italian at a private university in Egypt. And so, my major interests might be said to be: languages, history (especially European Medieval and Islamic History), textile art (mostly counted thread embroidery, but also art quilting), gardening and landscaping, architecture (I am purely an amateur in this field, but did manage to design my own house in Egypt), Norwegian folk painting, called Rosemaling (which I learned in Chicago, but haven’t done for years), ethnic cooking (I have a library of 200 cookbooks from all over the world), art in general as an inspiration for needlework, quilting and faux painting (I do all the faux painting in our home, the gallery walls, the cloudy sky in the bedroom, the night sky in the reception) and, almost forgot, writing.

Although unpublished, I have written one charming book for young adults about a gardener cut off from his/her (written in the first person, the gardener could be any age or gender) home by a sudden thunderstorm. Daily rains keep him stranded on 2 wooded islands and his former garden and he must learn to live with the plants and animals he finds there (all of whom speak, of course.) Two other novels, these for adults, are in the writing stage—one is a mystery staged in Scotland. A sewing group receives a large donation of embroideries and books from a deceased lady they think is Dutch. Going through her donation, they piece together her life—and eventually, her surprising death.

The second book is about a young English boy unable to speak. He meets an old artist who befriends him and leads him through his own artwork and experiences out into a larger world. It is called “Corrie’s World.” Of course, all the novels contain little twists and turns, but it is probably the writing of them that brings me the most pleasure.

1 comment:

Aurelia Eglantine said...

Thanks very much for posting this interview Moonsilk! I really enjoyed reading about Lin's work and inspirations. It is wonderful to learn more about passionate cross-stitchers, and encouraging to find that there are those like Lin who are working to uncover the history of the art while teaching it to future generations :)