As I wrote about in my last blog post, a few years back, I learned about these prints, dated from around the first years of the 1500s, these knots created by the artist Albrecht Durer. I was so taken by them and truly delved into a personal research project to learn more.
Some background came from an exhibition catalog, “Durer in America: His Graphic Work” at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC in 1971. There, two of the knots were on display and in the catalog came many interesting pieces of information, with these sentences being the most important to me:
“Although the function of the Knots were meant to serve is a matter of some controversy, the prevailing opinion is that they represent designs to be used for embroidery.” A-ha! I was onto something in wanting to interpret them with needle and thread. Wish I knew more about how they might have been used in the 16th century, however.
“Interestingly enough, each knot is not composed of a single unending strand….They are instead constructed from simpler patterns which repeat periodically. They are far from isolated phenomenon in the tradition of ornamental art and their antecedents include designs found on Persian and Syrian faience and the interlaced motifs of medieval manuscripts.”
I don’t know if it was before or after reading in this particular book that I had already begun wondering that question myself, whether the designs were made up of only one or multiple strands. Although the catalog entry references a few scholarly articles where academics had to ‘prove’ that there were multiple strands involved, I thought, jeez, take out the colored pencils and see it for yourself. And so I did.
With the help of a light board, I was able to take a print out of each of the six knots, lay a plain piece of paper over it, and begin tracing. If I came back to where I started, that strand was done. I then picked a different color to start again. You can see in these pictures that I discovered that each of these designs had anywhere from 2 to 9 strands. (In the upper right corner of each paper, I kept track of how many different colored pencils I had to use.) Although depending on how you categorize, you could even say more than 9 strands, as some of them had motifs that just repeated multiple times.
How to do something with these with my stitching? I couldn’t envision graphing them on graph paper – there were simply too many curves involved. This was something that needed to be done using embroidery techniques. Staying on the surface of the fabric, so to speak.
What I evolved to was this: draw the design on fabric (I think I used a 36 count, but the count really didn’t matter) using a pencil. Couch thread over, one circuit (as I came to call those strands in the design) at a time. I used a Kreinik thread in a chocolate brownish color, using a braid (maybe a #8 size?) as the main thread and then a cord (which is Kreinik’s very very fine thread) in the same color to couch and sew through the fabric. I started with the simplest knot design, the one that only had two circuits. I was constantly referring back to my print out of the Durer knot to know which curve to follow, what path to take.
A few pictures of my process:
The first one pleased me. The second one I chose to do was the knot I had labeled in my mind as “first found”, the first of the six that I had found in a book and had taken me down this path of learning about Durer, his knots, and coming up with a needlework technique to reproduce them. I admit, I didn’t enjoy it as much. It got complicated to “fit” everything in.
I guess you could also say that I had proved what I had set out to do and showed that it could be done. While I had the fabric cut and plenty of thread to continue onward, there simply was not any motivation or initiative to do the remaining four knots in the series. I love the two that I did and I suspect that may be enough.
I love projects like these. Ideas that come from stumbling upon something that visually takes me back with its stunningness and makes me study and learn. And then creating within me a desire to find a way to play with needle and thread to recreate or reimagine it.
Related note: after the first blog post went up, I had a few questions about the pattern for this design. This is not a pattern I have for sale in my Etsy store. Keep in mind, it is not a charted idea, but rather a surface embroidery piece. If there was a lot of interest, sure, I would consider creating a pattern for sale. But, right now, none exists. 🙂