January 19, 2023

Contemporary Romanian blouse with goldwork embroidery - Part I

My philosophy when it comes to making Romanian blouses is document as much as possible before even getting the needle through the fabric. Reason being, anyone can hold a needle, but not anyone can make a Romanian blouse or any ethnic embroidery for that matter. I'm not being a purist or an elitist, it is a status easily achievable through seeing an enormous amount of correct Romanian blouses, through reading every book written about the topic, through visiting museums, ethnographic museums especially if you are interested in a specific part of Romania, through practising the stitch until you can make it perfect and at last through dedicating a time to make the blouse, not rush it, put all your hopes and believes in a garment that you will probably wear forever.

In the spirit of that, I've started the new year, with an embroidery course I've actually got for my birthday, from the Royal School of Needlework, the Introduction in Goldwork Embroidery, in the hopes that I will get the skills required to make my blouse using this technique. To my knowledge, these blouses were made predominantly in the Banat region of Romania, but there are influences among regions as I am sure it is not specific only to Banat, but is rather an influence from the Balkans and from the Ottoman Empire. Read again my surname and if you need a better reason as to why I'm dedicating my time and energy to this, there isn't one.

The blouse will be a contemporary one, hence the title, which means the embroidery has to be wearable. I've seen examples of Banat blouses, but they are pieces for museums and personal collections, not necessarily made for everyday wear. BUT more on the blouse once I've finished it. At the moment let's turn back to the goldwork embroidery techniques.
This is the example of the finished piece I've saved from the Royal School of Needlework website. Scroll down if you are anxious to see what I've made.
For this course I will need six different types of gold wire, only one of them is used in Romanian blouses, but it doesn't hurt to know them all.
At this very first stage I've found a possible reason as to why this embroidery technique didn't spread in other parts of Romania, because it takes time and space. You will need to work on a loom and not only that, you will need a stationary loom. So, ideally, you will need an embroidery corner, not easily achievable in contemporary houses with a dog and a toddler, I imagine it was unthought about in old peasant Romanian houses. So this type of embroidery must have been done by the small nobility, by women with a lot of time on their hands and with big enough houses to have an embroidery corner.
If this course has taught me anything is that embroidery is embroidery everywhere. As in making Romanian blouses, the first stage was prepping the fabric, making it stable.
Now comes the new part. In this type of embroidery you don't embroider on a single plan, but you make your work multidimensional and you achieve that by putting felt in the areas you want to raise. In the above case there are three round pieces of felt, each one a bit bigger than the last. It is called padding, felt padding.
Next comes the soft string padding. I'm not entirely sure why the string padding and not continue with felt, but I kinda understand and you will see it if you follow this post.
The first work with gold thread comes only in the third class and it is actually the most important stage for my Romanian blouse project, as most of the embroidery will be made using this technique: brick couching with smooth passing
Smooth passing is the wire, it is very similar to the gold thread used in Romanian blouses, fine wires spun around a cotton core. 
This was the stage I've hated, plunging
Getting the thread through the fabric, easier said than done. You see, different from what anyone imagines as embroidery, in the goldwork embroidery you only work on one side of the fabric and you don't stab the thread through the fabric except for the end. It is called couching. And believe me, stab is the right word used here.
This stage was using the fine gilt rococo thread together with the smooth passing. It is a wavy thread, slightly thicker than the passing and although it does give a very nice effect to the finished piece, if you look at the embroidery, no matter how much I've tried, and believe me, I've tried, it doesn't cover the whole felt underneath. 
Plunging rococo was hell and I've hated it. 
Third stage was using gilt twist, a twisted wire, which looks good, but again is a nightmare to plunge. 
This is my piece after the first three petals. It is good that in my Romanian blouse I will not use twist or rococo, as I've disliked them both.
Then comes pearl purl, a wire that looks like is made of small gold pearl beads. Although I haven't seen it on Romanian blouses, I intend to use it on mine as I like the effect it gives to the borders of the design. I've enjoyed the technique of working with pearl purl and it doesn't require plunging. 
Wire check purl is the thread used in the middle of the flower. I think it is the most used thread in the course, in this case is cut into small bead size pieces to give texture to the middle of the flower. I will not use it on my blouse, but it is an interesting wire to work with. It had an empty core, so it's worked like beads, doesn't matter its length and it is actually three gold wires spun around a three sided needle. 
At this point, my beloved embroidery stork scissors was transformed into a goldwork scissors, because I had to cut the gold wire and it kinda damaged my scissors. I was warned by the teacher that this would happen, but as much as I've strolled the internet I couldn't find a small goldwork scissors in Europe and UK is further away possible at this point. 
That is my concern about the Romanian blouse as well. If I can't find the wires in Europe I will have to find a way to import then from UK. It's an expensive and lengthily process, that I would rather avoid, but then again a trip to London is always something that pleases me. 
This stage was one of my least favourite ones, not because of the techniques I had to use, but because I had to adapt the length of my wire with almost every wire I've used. That meant putting the wire through the thread and the needle, seeing if it fits, if not, getting it out and cutting it and repeating the process.
A new wire was introduced, gilt smooth pearl, again an empty core wire which is worked like beads. I've liked working with it, even if it is very fiddly and fragile.  
The last pettal was made by alternating one thread of  wire check pearl and two of smooth pearl. Again time consuming, but the end result is spectacular. 
I can't be more proud of the result. Yes it has its flaws, but experience comes with practice
About the course:
I did not like the materials provided, the Gutterman polyester thread and the silk fabric the flower is placed on, which is also some sort of polyester silk. Other than that I think all of the materials are of a very good quality. For my blouse I will of course use linen as the base, to avoid any polyester touching my skin. I have to find a replacement for the Gutterman thread, as well and I might already got an idea or two.
Another thing I did not like was that not all of the stages are done by the teacher at the same time as you are doing them. An example was in the middle of the flower. The teacher made the external circle and showed how to plunge and hot to mask the end of the wire, all good, but then she said to use about three rows of smooth passing and then another circle of pearl purl. In my case this put my inner circle on top of the felt. Is it good? I don't know. Was it shown in the final result? Probably not, but at the time it was frustrating.
Other than these two points and yes the one month my kit stayed in customs between UK and Belgium, I would recommend this course, as it taught me a lot of new techniques and the design is made in a manner that at the end you somehow master the techniques. 
Although at the beginning I thought the materials provided will not be enough for what I had to do, they were more than enough. This is what I was left with. I used only one needle, I still have plenty of beeswax and Gutterman thread.
Oh yes, that is a thing I forgot to mention, the beeswax. If you want the Gutterman thread not to tangle, you have to use beeswax. As the Romanian blouse is intended to be worn and potentially washed a couple of times throughout its life, how will the beeswax not stain the white fabric?
It is one of the many questions I  have to find the answers to, preferably before I embark in this journey. 
This is my final piece from an angle so you will see it is multidimensional. All the gold threads are made of metal, not sure if exactly gold, but they are metallic and the sequins which are actually called spangles are made of gold.   
Now on to my Romanian blouse. I will of course post pictures of my inspiration and my documentation stages on the other post, but for now I know I want it to have the sleeve like that, so large without a bracelet and I am more attracted in smaller designs than in a big one as it is traditional in Banat.
This photo is from Iulia Gorneanu's facebook profile, I'm putting it here just as inspiration, my blouse will not be exactly like that firstly because I don't know where to find textured linen fabric like that and second because I'm not very fond of the goldwork design. I'm thinking of carnations or tulips, again hinting to the Ottomans, a small tree of life maybe, but don't know yet what my final design will be.

And with that my first post about my goldwork project of 2023 has come to an end. Keep an eye for the second part, but realistically it will be published in the Summer if all the stars align. If you are interested, I post a lot on stories over on Instagram @raluca.caranfil

December 31, 2022

Netherlands - Christmas Market in a cave?

Facebook in its infinite wisdom brought this into my attention, it was something in the line with - Christmas Markets in weirdest places, so I've skimmed the list and found out that the market in a cave it was close to Maastricht so close to us in Luxembourg. 

For a month I had the tab open on my chrome so I would not forget about it, and I've almost did when in the glue that are the days between Christmas and New Years, we ditched the pyjamas and went to check it out.

Valkenburg is the name of the town where you would find the caves and the caves are not actual caves (Netherlands has a problem with the sea if I remember it correctly so caves?) are in fact old mines which date from the time of the Romans. The town has a castle, the highest castle in the Netherlands and there are not one, but two caves.

Marl was mined in Valkenburg and with my limited geological knowledge the stone's name resonates with something out of a Tolkien novel, but is actually clay hardened into rock. 

First thing first, lower your expectations when going to Valkenburg. It sounds great, the execution is a bit poorly. You can only buy tickets to the caves/mine online, which in itself is a good thing, but be there at the exact indicated time on the ticket, otherwise you might just buy a new one for the time you would reach the actual entrance of the cave. Be expecting queues, for pre-pandemic crowds, and for someone to shout at you in a language only the Dutch and the Flemish understand and not budge as the person shouting only speaks Dutch and nothing else, but nothing. Most probably he is shouting the hour for the tickets so just smile and show him your ticket. If he shouts something back, it means you are there at the wrong hour. 

I personally think the Christmas Market scheme is just a scheme and if they would have decorated the cave and made some instagramable spots and maybe put a mulled wine stall in the middle it would have been fine. The only interesting thing I've bought is a stone bunny with my daughter's name carved by a very nice man. BUT in my defence it was after Christmas and all the gifts were already received. Also, I was visiting the cave alone, because we had Luna with us and dogs are not allowed inside (which is fine and understandable), but our plan of leaving her for an hour in the car while we visited the cave backfired, as the parkings are quite far from the cave and the town centre. 

I keep saying cave and not caves, because the entrance to the second cave eluded me. I think I've went inside the Municipal Cave, might be the Velvet one, but from the pictures on Instagram I think it was the municipal one. It is huge and very nicely decorated with trees that had baubles with messages and names inside. No clue as to what they represented and who were the people putting messages inside baubles, but hey, I guess it's my fault I don't speak Dutch.

Accustomed with the richess of Luxembourg I was expecting a photo-booth, even a payed one, there isn't any, just some Instagramamble spots where if you do take a picture you are asked in English (so they are aware that tourists do come to the caves) to tag the organisers. Not sure why.

As I was visiting the cave, which took about an hour, my husband, daughter and dog visited the castle and a very nice restaurant, which had schnitzels, very good schnitzels. Afterwords we walked a bit in the centre which also had a Christmas Market, had a mulled wine and drove home.

My advice, take the caves as a whole experience with the city and the castle and if you have time with Maastricht, as well. The caves don't have yet the potential of a tourist destination, but as a whole you have what you, maybe, came there for: peculiar Christmas Market, some cheeky shopping, some nice photos, a warm meal, an interesting ruin, a nice history lesson, a jolly city centre walk all wrapped into a nice Netherlands blanket. I am a tat subjective here as the Netherlands is my favourite country in this area. 

And with this, we put an end to old 2022. An year which got me my freedom as I've finally acquired my driving licence and also the year which got as all safe and sound by its end. With the hope of seeing you all in 2023, I wish you Happy New Year! May all your midnight wishes come true! @raluca.caranfil 

December 29, 2022

Germany - Three days, three Christmas Markets

I was a bit hesitant when my husband proposed a quick getaway three days before Christmas, but I was also the one complaining about not going to the Christmas Markets in Luxembourg and not drinking enough mulled wine. I've imagined that the prices would be astronomical, similar to the ones in Colmar or Strasbourg, this time of year, but it was very affordable, so everything fit into place and on December 20th we arrived in Rothenburg ob der Tauber.

If you search Christmas in Germany or German Christmas Markets it is bound to appear in the first ten results if not the first one, so I was a bit surprised of how easy it was to get a room and to make the 5-ish hour drive. The bad part was that it rained a lot, but not a drizzle, rain that would get you wet within the first 5 minutes. So although our plan was to stay in Rothenburg and visit its museum and walk on its walls, we had to plan according to the rain. 

In Rothenburg there were Christmas trees everywhere and the town looked right out of a Victorian Christmas Card

I've tried to take artistic photos, but that is simply a pointless endeavour with a kid or a dog hanging from you, with mittens because it is Winter and with occasional rain. So this is what you get. 

I am a tourist, a traveller if you want. This picture best describes my joy of finding new places and absorbing it all, forgetting to take pictures sometimes, but having my phone in my hand.

Our first option was Nuremberg, a big city with a lot of museums and shops where one could ditch the rain. It was at about 45 minutes to an hour drive from Rothenburg, we checked the Railway Museum, it is nice and at the end the children area is to dream for, but by the end we were all tired and even Ilinca wanted to eat something and not play. So we went to the Christmas Market, as the sun made a brief appearance.

At the Railway museum in Nuremberg. I was hoping they had more than just one or two trains you could go inside, but it is a museum I would recommend. 

If you are wondering who is listening to all those recordings in German, well Ilinca was. That is what I would tell the people at the museum, to at least add some English explanations. 

At the children area they could go on a miniature train, they could ride those things shaped as a train, they had train sets to play with, they had a clues solving circuit where they would learn things about trains, I assume. It was all in German. Next time I would come only for the children area.

In Nuremberg we went to the castle, but managed to visit only its cafe. The panorama was nice with the sunset.

The third day was again raining a lot and I wanted to do some last minute Christmas shopping and where better if not at TK Maxx. Turns out that there is one in most of the towns close to Rothenburg, so we chose Wurzburg. The store was disappointing, but we still found what we needed and then we headed out to the Christmas Market.
I've seen those instagramable wings everywhere, so I couldn't resist a photo

The markets

In Rothenburg ob der Tauber, the Market closes precisely at 7 p.m., but there are some restaurants in the area good and affordable and also the whole city is decorated so nicely that walking is an experience in itself. The mulled wine was good and they had some nice sausages. The atmosphere is so nice and cosy, everyone seems to know everyone and the sellers and locals are very friendly.

The market in Rothenburg was, to me, very local with stalls selling cheese and ham and even yarns for knitting.

The market in Nuremberg is worth a whole day. It is huge and with a lot of stalls. It is wonderfully decorated, but it is crowded. Navigating it with a dog and a toddler in a buggy was difficult. But again the atmosphere was nice and the mulled wine was good. 

In Wurzurg was raining cats and dogs and Ilinca fell asleep so we had to take shelter and we did on the terrace of a lovely coffee/restaurant. The market had a lot of stalls selling almost the same stuff as the ones in Nuremberg, the mulled wine was only white, but because of the rain we did not have that many options, they could very well have red wine, we just did not find it.

The first day in Rothenburg

Seeing the iconic place for the first time. As it was the gate we would use to go into town, I've almost missed it the first time, but tourists with cameras gave it away.

It was difficult to take a good picture, so this all I've got.

Ilinca inside the German Christmas Museum in Rothenburg

At the end of the visit we were asked to make Christmas decorations. I haven't spotted any in Romanian so I've made one.

Was it worth it?

YES. YES. YES. Any trip out of your home is worth for the child, for you and even for the dog. You see new people, interact with new cultures and customs and learn a thing or two in the process. I would go back to the area in the summer, to see the coloured houses of Rothenburg decorated with flowers, to check other museums in Nuremberg and maybe go back to Wurzburg as well. 

Although very similar in style to the Strasbourg Colmar area, the prices are normal, the food is similar, but they have schnitzels which for me is always a plus.

The drive wasn't that bad, we stopped once or twice, but we are accustomed to long drives, so five hours wasn't even that long. There isn't any speed limit on some parts of the motorway in Germany, so my husband was happy to test his German car. I wasn't looking :)

Next time I would book a hotel in Rothenburg old town, we chose one next to the walls, it was nice, it was in a house made to look like the old ones, it was close to the centre, but next time, if I find one with parking and allowing dogs, I would like to wake up looking at the coloured houses.

As you know, Germany is very dog friendly. I had no problem finding a hotel that allowed dogs, she came with us in all the restaurants and all the shops. She wasn't allowed inside the museum in Nuremberg, but she was allowed inside the Christmas Museum in Rothenburg. 

That's about it from me. I hope you find this article informing, and I hope you will add Rothenburg ob der Tauber on your travelling list. You will find me on Instagram @raluca.caranfil 

December 12, 2022

France - Small Christmas market in Avioth

It's been so long since I've written anything here that I have almost forgotten the password, but here I am. Does it make sense to say I'm working on a new face for my blog and my social media outlets? Don't think so. You will see it when it will be ready. In the meantime, on our region winter came and with it the Christmas Markets. This year, the abundance of markets made me look for the smaller ones, hopefully less crowded ones, the more authentic ones and so it happened that most of the communes in the area (Belgium, Luxembourg, France) organised markets that last just one weekend or maybe two. It is the case of Avioth in France, very close to Orval in Belgium which is maybe more known to the readers of this blog.

Avioth is a village with few houses, according to the internet, with 144 inhabitants, but a big cathedral dedicated to Virgin Mary, Notre Dame. The village is better known as a place of pilgrimage, as in the 12th century a statue of the Virgin was miraculously discovered. In the 13th century a large Gothic church was build and in 1993 by the decision of Pope John Paul II it became a basilica. 

To me, the church looked imposing and big on the outside, but very warm and cozy inside. We discovered Avioth very early when we moved here (we moved here in November 2012 and according to the blog, visited this place in January 2013), together with Orval and Montmedy, but haven't been there in at lest six years if not more. BUT Avioth evolved and their Christmas Market made it to Facebook and from there on to my calendar so I would not forget to visit it, as it was open for just two days.

The Christmas Marked was a Christmas Market, it had mulled vine and gaufre and it had Santa and houses with small crafts and of course Orval beer which was drank in glass glasses not in paper ones as everything else, it had a big tree and it cost one euro 50 to enter. To me, though, the village looked even more charming than the small Christmas Market. All the houses close to the church were nicely decorated with wooden figurines, there were three or four artist workshops and some small brocantes. It was charming and I'm glad I've convinced myself and my family to brace the cold and go out.

I am well aware that the Christmas Market in Avioth has ended and, at least this year, you can't visit it, but the decorations, I would imagine, stay there at least for the holidays so if you spend your Christmas at home, Avioth, together with Montmedy in France and Orval Abbey in Belgium are worth a visit. Pack your hot beverage and some sandwiches as you know how restaurants are with their middle of the day pause.  

As for us, I hope we will visit more markets, I have my eye on one or two, maybe some in Germany, as to me they have the most traditional ones, and I hope I will find the time and the desire to write something about them and revive this forgotten blog.

Merry Christmas to all! I hope Santa will bring you all you desire!

As usual, I am on Instagram @raluca.caranfil