The Third Dimension

A couple of years ago, I took a class in stumpwork (three-dimensional) embroidery with one of the world’s leading experts:  Jane Nicholas.  She jetted over from Australia to teach a week long EGA class.  She is probably best known for her anatomically accurate bugs.  She also has a series of bugs done in stumpwork and goldwork that are unbelievable.  She uses a magnifying glass to work them to size.

My Bittersweet & Butterfly Medieval Panel - designed by Jane Nicholas

Our class was “Bittersweet and Butterfly Medieval Panel”, which contained a butterfly, caterpillar, and a bittersweet plant.  To create the 3D leaves, petals, and butterfly wings, you couch wire to a piece of muslin and then embroider over the wire (leaving a tail of wires) and muslin.  After completing the embroidery stitches, you cut out the object and insert the wires through the background/main embroidery piece.  On the back you tack down the wires.

3D Effect of the Panel

The berries are made by wrapping silk around beads and then attaching them to the background.  The border is actually a hand-dyed, red-copper silk ribbon named Hot Flash.   Then gold wire is twisted through beads to create the lattice effect.  The threads are all Soie d’Alger silks.  Love Soie d’Alger.  Needlepoint Inc silks are the best; the Soie d’Alger are a close second.  Both are very soft and supple.  Eterna Silks are good, too.  They have a twist and sheen to them.  NPI and SdA have a matte finish.

Another 3D View

The caterpillar is worked by layering threads and embroidering over the thread layers – gives him a pop.  The dragon fly wings are organza with blending filament for the veins.  The effect is very sparkly.  The whole piece is actually sparkly  – hard to capture in a photograph.

As you can surmise, the process is a tad tedious, especially for a large piece like this.  It’s about 4″ by 9″.  Typically stumpwork pieces are about 2″ to 3″ per side.  I’ve seen some museum pieces that are over a foot per side, which is why those embroiderers went blind at young ages.  I have a few more stumpwork pieces that I plan to do at some point in my lifetime.  Given Phoebe’s proclivity to help, I may have to wait a few years or win the lottery & rent an art studio.  Go Powerball!!!



I spent most of last week in pharma country, giving presentations to the oppressed souls who foist “medicine” onto the unsuspecting public.  Most of the people in the rooms had the same look of panic, fear, and desperation.  Some aggressively foisted their uncertainties onto the poor vendor (me).  Others appeared resigned to their fate or were making the best of their situation.  The trip definitely confirmed my decision to flee corporate life.

For our intellectual exercise this week, we shall tie the idea of dying empire to the corporate world.  Empires falling are classical historical areas of study, but are typically restricted to nations or tribes.  I argue that corporations are similar.  When the corporation becomes too large or unwieldy, its leaders shift focus from the original goals of the company to merely perpetuating its size.  We must grow larger, assimilate other companies, and expand our power into governments, banks, etc.  Employees live in their own bureaucratic world, ignorant of their counterparts in other departments.  My job is to ensure this form is filled out properly, and I don’t care that my intransigence is derailing a key project.  Team spirit is lost.  We are all cogs in the wheel.  Eventually, the corporation will self-destruct via greed, over-expansion, or chicanery.  (Yeah, I’m cracking out the vocab!  GRE test date is April 2.)  As Rome fell, so fell Tyco, Enron, etc.

For those who prefer a more artistic expression of corporate oppression, the works of Sinclair Lewis, King Vidor’s The Crowd (a film), and Booth Tarkington’s The Magnificent Ambersons explore the ideas of 1) losing oneself in the corporation, 2) the transition from a rural/simple life to the urban/hectic life, and 3) business as an empire.  Orson Welles’ film of Ambersons is excellent, too – though bastardized into a mere 90 minutes.  That’s a topic for another day.

For the historians in the crowd, Paul Kennedy’s The Rise and Fall of Great Powers is legendary.  Read it now.

I’m thinking about some book reviews for next week.  Maybe my top 10 favorite history books.  We shall see.