Tuesday, May 10, 2011


Please excuse the research geek out, but I had an idea and I'm excited about it. As usual for me, there's a big long story behind a very small item.

Well before I ever considered making an Italian dress, I fell in love with an extant embroidered needlecase from Venice. Its just plain gorgeous, as well as being very functional. Its basic shape is like a penner with cords down the sides along which the lid slides to open and close it. I'm assuming it would be worn from a girdle in the same sort of way a penner ( a case worn on the belt that holds scribal supplies) would. According to Bella's Glossary of Italian Words Related to Costume the word for penner and needlecase is the same in Italian so there are certainly some similarities. Totally random fact, but in old Russian the words for writing and needlework are the same. Cool, huh?

I ran across the pennaivolo while doing other research (isn't that how everything is found?) I made some Norse style carved bone needlecases awhile back, and in the process of my research read this survey paper on needlecases and saw a drawing of the incredibly lovely embroidered example featured at Historic Needlework Resources Its heavily decorated with peacocks and flowers embroidered over a painted tube. The guilded and painted collar with its flaming heart, skull, and bones reminds me of my friend Fiametta. Needless to say, I'm not getting a reproduction of that needlecase made any time soon since its a 4 (or 6 or more) month project on its own.

I still like the idea of a needlecase to wear with my dress, however, and its been brewing in the back of my brain. When I did my pocket, I saw this image of a needlecase dangling from the pocket and it seemed a lot more doable than the first. Well, maybe. It has its own difficulties. Like the fact that it is a tiny picture with not much to go on. It appears to be metal to me. Metal is second to bone use for needlecases in the extant ones we have across cultures so that makes sense. There are certainly Italian examples of needlecases done in metal, like this one dated from around 1500. The shape of the one in the link isn't at all similar to the one in the painting, nor does the open topped cone in the painting match extant English pieces which tend to be more tapered and thin. And then there's the fact that I have minimal metalworking skills. Difficulties.

I still want to try it, however. I have some ideas. Many of the extant needlecases have interior tubes of either metal or leather to separate the space into sections. The 1500 Italian metal example has grooves as well. I'm thinking if I do a cone out of embossing metal and wrap it around leather tubes it might work. I picked up some thin metal sheets to play with while I was out today, so I'm going to do some playing this afternoon and see what happens. Wish me luck!

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