Saturday, August 1, 2015

Signing Off from Blogging

I am closing my blog because I find that a newsletter is a better way to communicate with everyone.  Please drop by my web page -- -- and sign up to receive a monthly newsletter.

Happy stitching!

ArelateStudio on Etsy

Thursday, July 2, 2015


Jehan Genevoy, a printer in 16th-century Lyon, France, published a set of playing cards with wonderfully graphic figures.  I chose two of them, charted and colored them, and discovered what a stunning couple they make!  They work up nicely in cross stitch, but I can also see them done in needlepoint, perhaps as pictures or accent pillows.  The white backgrounds could be worked in a textured stitch which would accent the figures even more.  If you would like to see these in black-and-white and others from Genevoy's playing cards, see Dover's book, Antique Playing Card Designs.

Playing cards appear to have been invented in China where in 1120 a document mentions a game involving ivory tablets with allegorical figures of the heavens, mankind, stars and cardinal points, and virtues such as justice and benevolence. Paper cards first appeared in China in 1294, the country that invented paper and printing.

The spread of playing cards seems to have gone from China into India where a card game called dasavatura used cards depicting gods, royalty, animals, and flowers.  This game spread into Persia and Egypt, finally moving up the Italian peninsula.  The naibi of 14th-century Italy depicted aspects of human life as well as mythological people such as the Muses and Apollo, the planets, the virtues, and the sciences.  It was these pictorial and symbolic cards, in combination with numerical cards, that eventually evolved into the Tarot.

Numerical cards are modeled on Arabic cards and were influenced by dice.  These entered Europe via Spain, and the four suits and the "royal" cards of king, queen, and jack were added.

Monday, June 1, 2015


Have you ever wondered how a designer decides on the size of the finished picture?  For my designs, it comes down to fingers!  Since everything is outlined in black and then colored in -- a feature common in medieval art -- all my fingers require 3 squares: one flesh-colored for the finger and one in black on each side to outline it.  


Sometimes delineating all the fingers will make the final design just too big, in which case the poor person will be relieved of a finger or two. 

Feathers, like fingers, can only be reduced so far.  The narrowest feather needs the same space as a finger and will thereby determine the final size of the winged creature. 

Beyond fingers and feathers, a design more or less tells me what size it should be, what size suits the proportions of the original, what size is not so huge that someone would never stitch it.  For example, for my own pleasure I am working on 1/3 of a woodcut picture of Basel which is going to be rather large assuming it ever gets finished.  I have stitched Very Large designs and enjoyed them, but for the most part I think we all like something that we can count on finishing in a reasonable amount of time, yes?

Friday, May 8, 2015

Arelate Studio Is Back!

Where have the last five years gone?  Remember when you were young, and summers lasted forever?  Now, I just blinked, and suddenly it is 2015!

But I have not been just lolling around, eating bon-bons.  I've gotten a good start on the eternal book on 12th-century Norman Sicily which hopefully will be finished before I die.  More on this research in a later post.

There is, however, some Really Good News for stitchers.  I have also been working on designing, and there are now 100 Cross Stitch Designs available from Arelate Studio!  And more are in the works.

With the new designs, I decided to jump into web design and have created a NEW WEB SITE where you can find all my cross stitch charted designs and books. 

Everything is available in electronic format, even the two pattern books, "Here Be Wyverns" and "Here Be Drolleries".  There are complete directions for ordering charts and/or books.  I hope I've made the web site both exciting and easy to use.  And I've learned a LOT ... trust me when I tell you that this "cyber virgin" had the dickens of a time on the steep learning curve of web designing!

Please pass this information along to anyone who might be interested.  I look forward to meeting you all again ... after this "blink" in time!     Nancy

Saturday, December 11, 2010


Christmas is a wonderful conglomeration of Roman, Viking, Germanic, and Victorian English traditions.  The early Christian church assimilated many of these traditions from old midwinter sun festivals, such as the Roman Saturnalia, and our use of Christmas greens reflects these early practices.

"Evergreens such as holly, ivy and mistletoe decked the medieval house in the bleak days of midwinter, bringing hope of renewed life to the darkest days of the year," says Sophie Jackson in her wonderful book, The Medieval Christmas

The holly has ancient associations with good luck and protecting homes from thunderstorms.  With its red berries, it also offered protection against witches and could detect evil spirits.

Ivy, for unknown reasons, has always been thought of as "female", whereas holly was mainly considered "male".  It was not as welcome in medieval homes, possibly because ivy was worn as a crown by Bacchus in the old sybaritic Roman cult.  His chosen group of female companions, the Bacchae, drank the juice made from ivy leaves which was supposedly intoxicating. 

Mistletoe is the most dramatically "pagan" of the holiday greens.  The Celtic Druids had great reverence for it, especially if it was found growing on an oak tree from which it would be cut with a golden sickle.  Mistletoe is the plant that killed the Norse god Balder.  Frigg, his mother, wept for her son, and it was her tears that became the white berries.  She instructed that anyone meeting under the mistletoe should do no harm to one another and to exchange a kiss, something we still do today.

The decorated, indoor Christmas tree was not a tradition during the medieval period, although it is likely that various outside trees were decorated during the season, particularly fir trees.

Christmas traditions are rich and fascinating.  Please visit these web sites for much more information on Christmas during the Middle Ages.

Medieval Christmas Traditions

Tales of the Middle Ages - Christmas

A Medieval Christmas

Christmas Traditions In England During the Middle Ages

How to Cook Medieval - Christmas Feasts

Wednesday, November 3, 2010


Courtly love, an ideal whereby a man of impeccable taste and behavior could love an unattainable lady of equal impeccability -- chastely, passionately, truly -- developed in France in the 12th century, particularly under the patronage of the indefatigable Eleanor of Aquitane (queen to two kings, mother of two kings). 

Courtly love was expressed most strongly in the love songs of the troubadors and minnesangers.  The Manesse Codex, written 1300-1315  in Zurich and housed in Heidelberg University, is the most famous collection of these songs.  It is a representation of work by 140 poets writing in the Middle High German lyric tradition.  Its reknown is based largely on the 138 colored illuminations which show the songs' authors doing courtly activities.

You can see all 138 of these pictures on the first web page listed below.  Go to the button that says "Table of Contents" to access them.  The second site describes an upcoming exhibition in Heidelberg of the manuscript.

Manesse: Die Mansesseche Liederhandschrift, 1300-1315

The Codex Manesse and the Discovery of Love - Communications and Marketing - H

(You can see, on the second web page, the original of my adaptation above which shows the minnesanger Konrad von Altstetten.)

The illustrations have a slightly cartoonish feel to them which has made it interesting to adapt them to cross-stitch patterns.  I have done this with 4 of the pictures, adding some Latin and creating, for the most part, my own color schemes, although the originals use primary colors, too. 

Tuesday, September 14, 2010


The Mozarabic influence on Spanish illumination continued well into the 12th century.  Wonderful architectural details of obvious Arabic origin can be found in manuscripts.  This graceful double arch is adapted from the 12th-century "Cardena Beatus" (New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art).  To see pictures from this manuscript, go to CardeƱa Beatus.

And here are two of my favorite characters from the 12th-century "Silos Beatus" (London, British Library).  Very early disco indeed!  At least their clothing was not made out of polyester.  To see pictures from this manuscript, go to Silos Beatus.

(Why this fellow is playing a bird is beyond me!)

By the 13th century, however, Spain had seen a political and cultural change that brought it into the fold of continental Christiandom.  This is vividly depicted in manuscript pictures where drolleries, knights, minstrels, and other well-known medieval motifs now appear.  Here are two sweet drolleries from the 13th/14th-century "Vidal Mayor", a collection of Spanish law texts (Los Angeles, J. Paul Getty Museum).

Alphonso X "El Sabio" (1221-1284), King of Leon and Castile, commissioned several well-known, stunning-illustrated manuscripts on such topics as songs and games which give us a brilliant view into 13th-century Spain.  To see pictures from these manuscripts, go to The Cantigas de Santa Maria and Alphonso X Book of Games Home Page.

And finally, full-blown continental medieval Christianity appears in the form of the knight.  But even this knight, from the 14th-century "Libro de la Confradia de Caballeros de La Luente" (Burgos, Archivo Municipal), still retains some of that exotic Mozarabic style we originally saw from six centuries earlier.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010


I love medieval Spanish illuminations.  They are unlike any other book illuminations: ultra graphic, brilliantly colored, often oddly designed.  They can be divided into two fairly distinct time periods: the Mozarabic style of the late 8th to 11th century and those from the 12the century on.  The term "Mozarab" refers to the Christians who lived in the Iberian Peninsula (Al-Andalus) after the Arab invasion of 711.  The art of this time period appears to be a mix of established Christian, invading Arab, much older Visigoth, Asturian, and possibly early North African art.  Cordoba and Toledo were the most important centers for Mozarabic art.

I have charted many of the illuminations from several Mozarbic texts.  This is my adaptation of Adam and Eve from the Morgan Beatus (property of the J. Pierpont Morgan Library).

A "beatus" was an illustrated commentary on the Apocalypse.  A " dense series of Apocalypse illustrations was produced in North Africa.  We know this from its spectacular traces in the Iberian Peninsula, where the series was taken over in the eighth century by a monk names Beatus as an integral part of his Commentary on the Apocalypse. ... The history of the Morgan Beatus began around the middle of the tenth century, when a Spanish monk and painter named Maius received from the abbot of the Leonese monastery of St. Michael a commission for a copy of Beatus's Commentary."  (John Williams)  (I fondly call this design "Big Hair In The Garden"!)

The subject of the Apocalypse allowed free rein to the illustrators of the texts.  Strange animals, odd angels, and wild happenings are all depicted in strikingly bold colors.  This marvelous leopard from the Morgan Beatus actually sports a moustache!  (Please note: the colors of these adaptations are mine, not those of the original illustrations.)

The Morgan Beatus is replete with fantastic borders, such as this one used to frame a sample of the lettering found in the manuscript.  Even in the lettering, the Spanish Mozarabic manuscripts stand out as something radically different from what was being done in the rest of Europe at the time. 

And a last example from the Morgan Beatus, one that seems somewhat more familiar as it reminds me of folk designs found all over Europe in paintings and embroideries. 

The Biblia Hispalense, a 10th-century Spanish manuscript, displays very obvious influence from Arabic sources.  This bird and fish actually form a capital letter, and the original illustration has "The Beginnings of the Book of Daniel" written in Arabic script on the bird's neck.

All of these designs, in black-and-white, can be found in my book, Here Be Drolleries, along with many others, especially from the Morgan Beatus. 

To see original pictures of Mozarabic illustrations, I recommend these web sites.

Morgan Beatus -- Morgan Beatus - Google Search

Biblia Hispalense -- biblia hispalense - Google Search

Girona Beatus -- Girona Beatus - "First, unique and unrepeatable edition"Gerona Cathedral

Liebana Beatus -- Beatus de Liebana, Codex Urgellensis

The following books are highly recommended for further study.

Mentre, Mireille.  Illuminated Manuscripts of Medieval Spain.  London: Thames and Hudson, 1996.

Williams, John.  Early Spanish Manuscript Illumination.  New York: George Braziller, 1977.

Williams, John.  A Spanish Apocalypse: The Morgan Beatus Manuscript.  New York: George Braziller, 1991.  (This is a facsimile reproduction of the manuscript.)

Wixom, William.  Picturing the Apocalypse: Illustrated Leaves from a Medieval Spanish Manuscript.  New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2002.