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An influential museum exhibit

In my last blog post, I briefly mentioned that I learned about the existence of old (i.e. centuries old) pattern books to be found online thanks to a museum exhibit.  Let me take a moment to revisit that exhibit with you.

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The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City mounted a major exhibit titled “Fashion & Virtue: Textile Patterns and the Print Revolution, 1520-1620” in 2015.  It was brought to my attention through my lace-making circles.  (Has it come up in this blog that I am a lacemaker in addition to a needleworker? That I do bobbin lace, which is the way lace was made before machines made lace?  I’ll need to explore this in future blog posts!) If I was going by the title alone, I probably would not have given this exhibit a second thought…At That Time.  But, luckily, I was armed with the information that a lot of lace would be on exhibit, that some of pattern books from that print revolution mentioned in the title were intended for lace and needlework, as well as general textiles, and it became worth the trip into the city for me to experience this exhibit for myself.  And I am glad I did.

On the Met’s website, I was able to find the information about the exhibit still available on this page , which also features some of the exhibit’s objects.

For those intrigued, there is even a video of the exhibit to be viewed here, made by a lace-making acquaintance of mine who was at the opening and who works at the Met. Make sure to read her description when viewing the video.

I purchased a booklet that was produced at the time.  It is not a catalogue of the exhibit, but rather a bulletin of the museum, something that I believe is produced about four times a year, and this “issue” was devoted to the topic of this exhibit.  With the few years that has passed, this publication is now available to read free online here.

All this background to say that I very much enjoyed the few hours I spent at that exhibit and that pieces of it stuck in my mind in the intervening years.  However, one part that was NOT the most important piece at that time has become hugely important now.  I remember that lace-making acquaintance who works at the Met sharing in the lace circles that thanks to this exhibit, the Met was photographing, digitalizing, and making available online a large number of pattern books from the 16th and 17th centuries, books that had been in their collection but really only viewable in person and mostly by scholars for decades.  It was a huge deal in the print-making circles.  At the exhibit, they had tablets set up to scroll through pages of a number of these books, since the actual books on display were open to only one particular page.

Fast forward a couple of years and I was beginning my foray into designing cross stitch and WorksByABC.  The connections with history have always been strong and it came to the forefront of my mind to take another look at those centuries-old pattern books.  This time, I began scrolling through pages online not from a mildly amused “wow isn’t this neat that I can see stuff from the 1500s” point of view, but from a “wow I wonder if I can USE stuff from the 1500s” point of view.  And I came to realize I could.  A number of my patterns have come from, been inspired by, been adapted from, or otherwise have a connection to patterns and motifs that I have found in the pages of these textile pattern books.  (I’ve also come to learn that the Met’s website is not the only place to find such books.)

What a world that was opened to me when I went to that exhibit a few years ago!

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